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.
MUST SEE VIDEO: Firefighters work to put out raging fire that gutted historic East Village church
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.
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.
We are devastated and crushed that our beloved physical sanctuary at Middle Collegiate Church has burned.— Rev. Jacqui Lewis, PhD (@RevJacquiLewis) December 5, 2020
And yet no fire can stop Revolutionary Love. pic.twitter.com/R8D3NVjAiY
New York officials offered their support to the community after learning of the devastating fire, including New York City Councilmember Carlina Rivera.
As is said, the Church is not a building, but this one has been there for us through so much. People are here praying, we’re grieving as a community. pic.twitter.com/1oNOrraSBs— Carlina Rivera 利華娜 (@CarlinaRivera) December 5, 2020
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.
On scene at devastating fire at Middle Collegiate Church, which is completely gutted.— Senator Brad Hoylman (@bradhoylman) December 5, 2020
Can’t help but think of comparisons to Notre Dame fire.
Tiffany stained glass windows destroyed.
Commanding officer told me structure may not stand.
Investigators on scene. pic.twitter.com/8uyC7YPU52
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the fire "heartbreaking."
Heartbreaking.— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) December 5, 2020
Middle Collegiate is such an icon of the East Village. I can’t count the number of times I walked past it and took in its humble beauty.@FDNY is continuing operations on the scene. We’ll do whatever we can to help Middle Collegiate rebuild. https://t.co/Fqke8GjQNs
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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