More than 100 firefighters battled intense flames and stifling heat and humidity Wednesday night when a massive blaze ripped through a New Jersey church.
It's not clear what sparked the four-alarm blaze at Central Baptist Church on East 20th Street in Paterson Wednesday night, but heavy flames quickly spread through the three-story church, according to officials.
About 40 people were attending service when the fire broke out, according to Pastor Jose Luis Castro.
"The cloud of smoke was getting stronger, stronger, and from the side I started seeing flames," said Castro.
The congregants fled the building, and three families living in the homes adjacent to the church also escaped.
The roof of the church collapsed early on, putting firefighters into "defense mode" and signaling that crews would have to be there for an extended period of time, a fire official on the scene said. The humidity and heat forced firefighters to rotate crews quickly throughout the night.
By the time the fire was out, the church was destroyed and both houses next door were damaged.
"The whole roof collapsed. This whole thing has to be gutted and redone," said Castro.
"Some of the members, they started to cry," said Castro, who has led a congregation of more than 100 members for nearly three decades. "But I start to calm them down, and for me the important thing is nothing happened to nobody."
The church has been in existence for more than 100 years and is considered by many a pillar of the community.
"A lot of memories there, but we're going to reconstruct," said Castro.
Other local leaders went to the church Thursday to show support.
"I heard he was in trouble, and I came right over because we're all about unity," said Pastor Michael McDuffie of Paterson.
City councilman Andre Sayegh said: "We're going to keep him and his family in prayer, and we're going to uplift him the way he's uplifted so many of his congregants for so many Sundays."
Castro said he will continue to hold his church service at a temporary location until the church is rebuilt.
A cause of the fire hasn't been determined, but a fire inspector said he believes the fire started on the newly installed roof and worked its way down.