Why is it when a Church burns only the steeple remains standing?
Have you ever noticed that when a church burns the steeple remains standing. When there is a tornado the steeple remains standing. Through all types of weather, when the building collapses the steeple still remains standing. What is your explanation?
While there are, literally hundreds, of smart-ass comments flooding my mind at the moment, I would assume (yes, I know how dangerous that is) that it has something to do with the building materials used.
Interesting. I never thought about that. But wouldn't they use all of the same materials. All of the same wood? Etc.?
I'm not sure that they don't. You see the same thing in places like Tornado Alley (i.e. Kansas and Oklahoma) where there is always one part of the house that seems untouched while the rest of it looks like something out of Independence Day.
It's quite nice to think there may be some supernatural protection for church steeples, but if the entire church is made of wood, I suspect they do burn. They also do get damaged by weather. Check out this YouTube video.
or this one
In fact, if you search YouTube for "church steeple damaged" as I did, you will get a whole list of videos about steeples flattened by hurricanes or struck by lightning.
Even though you noticed steeples left standing in the dust of disasters, there are those steeples that do fall! However, because the steeple stands taller than the rest of the building, it will have additional reinforcements implemented to keep it erect. So often, yes, the steeple is the last thing standing.
I would agree with backporchstories. Naturally, fire and smoke would follow the path of least resistance. Since heat rises, it would naturally rise to the highest point, possible at the steeple. However, since there is a possibility of collapse, it is probably engineered so that it is reinforced. I guess it depends on the origin of the fire, how the fire suppression attacks the fire, and other factors such as barriers to the fire and smoke within the church.
I'm more of a person who likes to imagine and to say if. I see you have a lot of logical explanations about the steeple and even have been told that at times the steeple does collapse. I'd say you should listen to these explanations. However to me I'd like to think that if the steeple has a cross atop it remains whole as a sign that God is still with us even if everything around us is crumbling. This is only because I'd like to think that way.
As a structural engineer, I can offer this explanation: The steeple, being tall and narrow, will create very large forces into the columns. First, the dead load of the materials will be heavy. Next, the overturning force will have great leverage to magnify forces down into the walls, and upward on the windward side.
Wind forces increase as buildings get taller. The third story (steeple height) of a building might receive 20 psf of wind pressure. The second story might have 14 or 15.
All this adds up to tens of thousands of pounds of downward force on one side, and the same force pulling up on the opposite side.
To handle these forces, very large columns are used.
The sanctuary, on the other hand, likely has 2x4's or 2x6's at 16" on center in the walls, and more 2x members forming trusses in the roof. This thin (1.5", not actually 2") members can burn through in 30 minutes. A large column in a steeple might have 6x12 columns- these won't burn through in 3 hours.
When the fire department arrives and extinguishes the fire, the sanctuary, pastor's office, and Sunday school rooms will have had time to burn. But, the heavy columns in the steeple will still be barely burnt.
I don't think, I have seen any church burned but, this one I would think it would be built using a different material, probably fire resistant.
In the construction phase, the builders know that this will be subject to winds and the strain of time and gravity. Therefore the steeples are made of stone and steel and the rest of the church with less hardy substances, like wood and brick.
Steeples are usually constructed out of stone or metal. They remain standing when a church burns down for the same reason that chimneys remain standing when houses burn down: Stone is more fire-resistant than wood.
As for why the rest of the building isn't made out of the same stuff: Stone and metal are more expensive than wood and harder to work with.
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