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Historic New York City church gutted by massive fire

The fire tore through a vacant building early Saturday morning then spread to Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, which was constructed in 1892.
Credit: AP
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire erupted from the building next to Middle Collegiate Church on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020 in New York.

A fire that erupted early Saturday morning inside a vacant building in New York City's East Village spread to a historic church next door, seriously damaging the 128-year-old structure. 

Fire officials told local news outlets that the blaze began before 5 a.m. inside a vacant, five-story building on East 7th Street. The fire then spread to the Middle Collegiate Church, which was constructed in 1892. 

Videos from the scene showed the church's roof engulfed in flames as fire crews tried to get the blaze under control. 

Rev. Jacqui Lewis, Middle Church's senior minister, said in a statement that they are "devastated and crushed that our beloved physical sanctuary at Middle Collegiate Church has burned."

"And yet no fire can stop Revolutionary Love," she added. "We thank God that there has been no loss of life. We know that God does not cause these kinds of tragedies but is present with us and to us as we grieve, present in the hugs and prayers of loved ones. We’ve been worshiping and doing our ministry in digital spaces since March and that’s what we’ll be doing tomorrow." 

Built in 1892, the church is home to the oldest congregation of the Collegiate Churches of New York, which date to the Dutch settlement of the island in the 1620s, according to the church's website.

The Middle Collegiate Church had been in two other locations in Manhattan since 1729.

The bell tower houses New York’s Liberty Bell, which pealed to mark the birth of the nation in 1776 and has since been rung for the inaugurations and deaths of American presidents and events such as remembrance of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the church.

Lewis believed the bell survived the fire but was not certain. Church minister Amanda Ashcraft told WABC that the Tiffany stained glass windows were gone.

State Senator Brad Hoylman described the church as being "completely gutted."

Credit: New York Fire Department
The New York Fire Department shared this photo from the scene as crews worked to control a fire that spread to a 128-year-old church.

"Can’t help but think of comparisons to Notre Dame fire," Hoylman tweeted alongside photos of the scene after firefighters extinguished the blaze. "Tiffany stained glass windows destroyed.  Commanding officer told me structure may not stand." 

FDNY Assistant Chief John Hodgens said four firefighters suffered minor injuries. Hodgens added at a news conference that the church suffered what he described as "very heavy damage" and felt that it's "going to be a difficult time for them to rebuild."  

The vacant corner building, where Saturday's fire began, was the scene of another fire in February that was ruled to be accidental and caused by electrical wiring. FDNY fire marshals said Saturday's fire was not related and the cause is under investigation. 

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.