Flames Shoot Out Door, Roof of Historic Philadelphia Church

Philadelphia firefighters battled flames shooting through the front door and roof of a Gothic-style Philadelphia church Monday morning.

Flames broke out around 9 a.m. in the basement of century-old Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church along Lansdowne Avenue near N 65th Street in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia and quickly engulfed the stone building. [[391603021, C]]

"Church fires are notoriously difficult to fight the fire, they have a lot of void spaces and fire can travel," said scene commander Robert Corrigan.

Firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke coming from the church, according to Philadelphia firefighters. SkyForce10 hovered overhead, showing flames shooting out of the building as the fire quickly spread to three alarms and smoke could be seen for miles around.

No immediate injuries were reported but firefighters had helped someone from the building, said Deputy Fire Commissioner Jesse Wilson.

With flames engulfing the building and not enough water to battle the blaze offensively, firefighters were pulled from the building for a defensive attack, said Corrigan. [[391602851, C]]

A fire department spokesman said there was a partial exterior collapse. By 10:10 a.m. the fire had spread to four alarms with around 120 firefighters battling the blaze. The fire was finally brought under control around 11 a.m.

Firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading to nearby homes.

The church is rented to several congregations, Good Shepherd Rev. J.B. Adams  told NBC10's Monique Braxton. A day care also operates out of the building.

Adams' brother and another church employee were inside when the power went out and the fire began, said Adams. Both people made it out OK.

"Everyone is fine," said Adams.

Pastor Pamela K. Williams of the Ark of Refuge Tabernacle, an LGBTQ oriented congregation, was tending to her son's nosebleed at home when she got six calls telling her the church was on fire.

"We lost everything," Williams said. "I just finished celebrating 35 years in the ministry yesterday with my church, and this on the heels of that breaks my heart."

She said it's been a struggle for her LGBTQ congregants to gain acceptance within mainstream Christianity. Williams' congregation was based at a motor lodge before moving to the church five years ago.

"This is a devastating setback. We have to find a place to workshop," Williams said.

Adams said the church recently marked its 100th anniversary.

Expect traffic delays in the area as the investigation continues through the day Monday.

"It's an old Gothic church, deep-seated fire — we're going to be here for some time," said Wilson.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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