Raging fire in East Village damages historic church; 4 firefighters suffer minor injuries

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Sunday, December 6, 2020
Raging fire in East Village damages historic church; 4 firefighters suffer minor injuries
FDNY officials say the 6-alarm fire began on the first floor of a 5-story vacant building at East Seventh Street in the East Village around 5 a.m.

EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan (WABC) -- A community is coming together after a massive fire gutted a historic church in Manhattan on Saturday.

FDNY officials say the 6-alarm fire began on the first floor of a 5-story vacant building at East Seventh Street in the East Village around 5 a.m.

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As the fire developed, it then spread to the Middle Collegiate Church located on Second Avenue, behind the initial building.

"Our units arrived in three minutes, very fast response time. Upon arrival we had heavy fire showing from the corner building on East 7th Street," FDNY Assistant Chief John Hodgens said. "We quickly transmitted additional alarms to get more help here. We knew this was going to be a big operation. Fire had extended into the church on 2nd Avenue and also into another building on 7th Street. We had all of our units in position and we were quickly able to contain it to that area."

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Citizen App video near the scene shows the wild flames.

Citizen App video shows a massive fire in the East Village and flames inside a church.

Over 100 firefighters responded to the incident.

The 5-story building where the fire broke out, was vacant due to an accidental fire that occurred earlier in the year on February 20.

Fire marshals say that fire was electrical and was caused by building wiring.

Meanwhile, the church involved in the fire was built in 1892 and has been linked to key historical events in American history.

"Unfortunately, it seems like it was pretty bad -- the sanctuary is not in good shape and we have some beautiful Tiffany stain glass windows that are gone," Middle Collegiate Church Minister Amanda Ashcraft said. "Horribly sad day for our congregation and for this neighborhood."

Firefighters are trying to save the steeple, however, Assistant Chief Hodgens says he considers the church to be a "total loss."

The church houses about 1,300 congregants.

Ashcraft arrived on the scene just after the church caught fire.

"God is also weeping right here with us, this is not anything that makes God happy -- not part of God's plan and God will be here with us as we rebuild from this moment," Ashcraft said.

Rev. Jacqui Lewis posted a statement on Middle Collegiate Church's website and on Twitter.

New York officials offered their support to the community after learning of the devastating fire, including New York City Councilmember Carlina Rivera.

New York Senator Brad Hoylman also took to Twitter to express his sympathy and made the comparison between this fire and the one that devastated Notre Dame Cathedral.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the fire "heartbreaking."

The Middle Collegiate Church announced that they will be a holding a virtual space at 7 p.m. for anyone who wants to mourn Saturday's tragedy. People can go to their website and register for Zoom information.

There's no word yet on what sparked the fire.

Officials say the roof and floors of the vacant building have collapsed, in addition to the roof of the church.

The Department of Buildings issued Full Vacate Orders to both buildings and ordered sidewalk sheds to be installed in front of the buildings.

A third building also suffered some damage, but all the occupants were able to exit the building safely.

A number of other nearby buildings have also been temporarily vacated as engineers continue their investigation into the structural stability of the two fire damaged buildings.

"I opened the door to my room -- I'm on the top floor too so I didn't know where the fire was coming from, smoke all in the stairwells, hallways and I was like we gotta get out, we gotta get out," eyewitness Kara Endahl said. "So we started running down the stairs and firefighters were coming up ... luckily, our whole building got out first."

There were four minor injuries to firefighters and operations and the fire is mostly under control at this time.

Approximately 44 units and 198 members worked on the scene.

St. Mark's Place from Second Avenue to E Sixth Street and E Seventh Street from First Avenue to Second Avenue were closed to traffic.

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