4-Alarm Fire Damages Local Orthodox Church

By David Chang and Danielle Johnson
|  Monday, Aug 26, 2013  |  Updated 6:02 PM EDT
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Fire destroys a historic church in Philadelphia's East Oak Lane neighborhood.
 NBC10's George Spencer spoke to parishioners and a historian about the loss.

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Fire destroys a historic church in Philadelphia's East Oak Lane neighborhood. NBC10's George Spencer spoke to parishioners and a historian about the loss.

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A four-alarm fire damaged an historic church in the East Oak Lane section of the city Sunday.

The fire broke out at the Saint Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church on 6629 N 12th Street around 1 p.m. A large portion of the church’s roof collapsed in the blaze. The head of the church says that the fire destroyed millions of dollars in furniture, religious art and icons.

"It's a tragedy, but by the grace of God, we'll make it through," said Antony Scharba.

Longtime member Peter Kluk told NBC10’s George Spencer that he was just leaving the church when the fire broke out.

“It’s painful…but what can I do? I have to accept it,” said Kluk.

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About 125 firefighters were able to get the fire under control around 3:19 p.m. Crews cut off power to 150 surrounding homes moments after the blaze. Power was restored around 8 p.m., according to officials. Sources tell NBC10 that fire appears to be electrical, starting in the rafters.

“When we went in our firefighters made the attack. When they saw the fire, the fire was high,” said Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.

Commissioner Ayers says he called his crews out of the church just moments before the roof collapsed.

Oksana Piliptchouk was married at the church and rushed to the scene after hearing the news.

“It's disaster. It's hard to explain. When we saw the roof collapse and everything, it's hard. It's hard to explain and it's going to take a while,” said Piliptchouk.

Saint Mary is one of several Orthodox parishes in Philadelphia. The first Orthodox cathedral was established in Philadelphia in 1897 by a group of Russian immigrants. The 100-member Saint Mary congregation consists mostly of Greek and Ukrainian immigrants, according to a member of the church who spoke with NBC10.

“I was really sorry that this was the church because this is like an icon…it’s been here for years,” said neighbor Diane McDonald.

Firefighters also battled an earlier fire in the Frankford section of the city that injured two teenagers. The kitchen grease fire broke out around 12:30 p.m. at a home on the 1600 block of Haworth Street. Firefighters were able to quickly control the flames.

A 14-year-old and a 17-year-old suffered burns. Officials have not yet revealed their conditions.
 

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