Parishioners Cope With Loss After 7-Alarm Fire Destroys Wakefield Church

The town's fire chief says lightning is believed to have caused the massive blaze

A Massachusetts community is at a loss following a fire that destroyed a historic, 150-year-old church.

Wakefield's First Baptist Church on Lafayette Street was engulfed in a 7-alarm blaze Tuesday, which is believed to have been started by a lightning strike during a severe storm moving through the region.

"We've had near misses with lightning before. Unfortunately, it just did a really good job this time," said Wakefield Fire Chief Michael Sullivan.

As crews monitored hotspots on Wednesday, Interim Pastor Norman Bendroth said the community has not yet discussed what will come next.

"My heart breaks for the folks who have been here for generations," he said.

Bendroth said the church was home to both a congregation and a daycare.

While watching crews tear down what was left of the steeple, parishioner Emily Brown recalled fond memories of the church as her father was the pastor at First Baptist for 27 years.

"This has always been a second home for me," Brown said. "All I picture is all the rooms and all the hallways and the sanctuary."

Residents like Bruce Ell are in disbelief that the fire ripped through the place of worship.

"The people were so nice. I just wanted to get some old memories," Ell said.

"I'm 72 and I've been coming to the church since I was 2 years old," Marsha Carter said. "My parents were both members. I became a member here. I was married here. I’ve buried both my parents here."

Firefighters responded to the blaze just before 7 p.m. A group was meeting inside at the time but made it out safely. Crews battled the fire for several hours and tried to preserve the church to their best efforts.

"I went to preschool in this church and I grew up going to 4-H here when I was in middle school and all through high school so I spent a lot of hours in there," one young woman said.

In a statement on the church's website, church officials thanked the firefighters and community members for their efforts and support.

"We know that we serve a God who specializes in restoring brokenness and who can bring beauty even from ashes," officials wrote. "So we move into the future with trust, hope, and gratitude."

Three firefighters suffered non-life threatening injuries battling the blaze and were treated on scene.

Parishioners will meet Wednesday night to discuss immediate plans for the congregation. They’re hoping to hold a service either in front of the church or at another church as early as the weekend.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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