The fire is not being labeled an arson, and the man charged is believed to be a worker who accidentally started the fire with improper torch work. He was identified as Caesar Raynor, charged with two counts of reckless endangerment.
The fire broke out inside the B'nai Adath Kol Beth Yisrael synagogue on Patchen Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant just before 9:15 a.m.
Three people suffered minor injuries, and the workers were able to escape.
"There were some people on the roof, and we quickly called out to them to see if they needed assistance getting off the roof," said Pastor Patrick Henry, of the Garden of Eden Baptist Church. "They seemed OK."
Crews were on the roof working with torches when the blaze broke out, and sources tell Eyewitness News police spoke with some of those workers at the precinct.
Witnesses said flames were shooting through the roof, and firefighters initially were able to get inside and dump water on the fire. But things quickly changed, and they had to leave to fight the fire from the outside after conditions became too dangerous.
"The fire, once it gets inside the voids, it spreads very quickly and very rapidly," FDNY Deputy Chief Kevin Woods said. "And that's what happened at this particular fire."
Still, firefighters were able to save and carry out sacred pieces that just can't be replaced. Those who grew up in the neighborhood were stunned to see the damage, having passed by so many times and heard music and prayer coming from the temple.
"This was currently, in the city of New York, the oldest congregation in our community," Rabbi Baruch Yehudah said. "(It) housed most of our major community events, so we're going to have to figure out what we're going to do from here."
No one was inside at the time, and no serious injuries were reported.
Members of the synagogue were in tears when they arrived, devastated by the loss.
"It's difficult to gather your thoughts, you know, trying to be optimistic and you're hurting," Kavah Levi said. "I've worked and served here as long as I can remember, to be a servant of my people."
The synagogue seats about 1,500 people.
The investigation is ongoing.
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