4-alarm fire destroys Central Baptist Church in Paterson

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Rob Nelson is at the wreckage of a church destroyed by fire. (WABC)

A four-alarm fire ripped through a church in northern New Jersey Wednesday night, completely gutting the structure.

The blaze broke out around 8 p.m. Wednesday night at the Central Baptist Church on East 20th Street in Paterson, with flames quickly spreading through the wooden structure until it was completely engulfed.

There were people inside the church at the time attending a Bible study class. They smelled the smoke, looked outside and saw the roof on fire. Everyone ran to get out, and no injuries were reported.

"He was like, 'Don't you smell something burning?' And we were like, 'Kind of,' and then he told one of the leaders of the congregation, 'Why don't you go outside and take a look?'" said Fernando Jeramillo, who was attending the Bible study. "So he opened the door, and everybody run because the roof is on fire. And then we all ran out."

Firefighters say it was already burning out of control when they arrived on the scene, and they struggled to put out the fire, in part, because of extreme heat and humidity. The fire raged into the wee hours of the night.

Angel Cepeda lives next door and was napping at the time, but the fire next door was so hot that he could feel it.

"I started feeling heat, so I looked out the window and I saw fire," he said. "I packed my stuff and ran...I thought the fire was in my house."

At least one firefighter was hurt. His condition was not immediately available, but his injuries were not believed to be life threatening.

"It's extremely humid, and the heat doesn't help, as you know," Paterson Fire Chief Michael Pasostorino said. "We were rotating crews out as quickly as we can, but we had one firefighter who was transferred to the hospital."

The church was a total loss, and the remains of the building were demolished early Thursday. The only thing that remains is the brick staircase that used to lead to the front door.

Even as the community was mourning the loss of its church, neighbors vowed to rebuild.

"Very good congregation, an excellent pastor, he's a man of God," Jeramillo said. "Unfortunately, at this point, you know, this happened. But I'm confident that God will raise our church again."

It's unclear what sparked the inferno. Two neighboring buildings were also damaged.
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