Firefighters said it was too early to say what reignited the blaze, but mentioned hot spots and burning wood sitting in the church. They were able to save the school next door, but remain concerned about the possibility of standing walls collapsing.
The Antioch Missionary Baptist Church will move its Easter Sunday services after fire destroyed its building on Friday afternoon. Services will be held at the Calahan Funeral Home at 7030 South Halsted Street at 10 a.m. Sunday, the church said.
Fire investigators on Saturday ruled the blaze accidental and determined it was caused by crews using a propane torch while working on the roof of the building.
“When I look at it. It’s devastating and it’s a great loss,” senior pastor Gerald Dew said. “We mourn. We mourn the loss of this sacred space.”
Firefighters were initially called to the church in the 6300 block of South Stewart Avenue around 2:15 p.m. Friday. A fire appears to have started on an upper floor and quickly spread throughout the structure. No injuries were reported and the cause of the fire remains unclear.
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By 2:25 p.m., the CFD had escalated its response to a 2-11, then to a 3-11 by 3:07 p.m. More than 194 firefighters and 54 devices responded to the scene, firefighters said.
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Most of the building’s truss roof had collapsed by 3 p.m., department spokesman Larry Langford said.
It was unclear if anyone was inside the church when firefighters were dispatched, he said. The fire appeared to start in the upper rear part of the church, where crews first noticed heavy smoke. Flames could be seen coming out of the windows of the church in a video posted on social media.
“This church is an anchor in this community,” Dew said. “It’s a place where people got married, found their faith, they were encouraged, they were equipped and empowered. It’s a neighborhood church.”
Chicago Fire Department officially declared the blaze extinguished shortly after 4:00 p.m., though firefighters were still battling flare-ups and hot spots for several hours afterward.
Fire trucks had to return to the scene multiple times on Saturday to douse hot spots of flaming debris under the building’s collapsed roof.
“Once the roof collapses, everything underneath could still burn. But with the roof above, the water doesn’t come in to get down into the debris,” Deputy District Chief Curtis said. Hudson of the Chicago Fire. Department.
“Most of the roof is gone,” Langford said. “It was a very popular church in the black community.”
Dew said he did not believe anyone was inside the church at the time of the fire. Shortly before the fire started, church members had filled the pews for holiday services to mark Good Friday.
“I know this: if we have to lose something, losing it on Good Friday is the best time to lose it because after Good Friday comes Resurrection Sunday,” Dew said. “I pledge to share the uplifting message about the power of resurrection.”
Tara Deramus had to see it for himself.
He didn’t want to believe that his beloved church was gone.
“I was baptized here when I was 7 and my mother was one of the oldest mothers in the church. She passed away and we have her funeral here,” Deramus said. “When I heard about it, it broke my heart.”
The Antioch Missionary got its start in 1925 and finally moved to its current location in 1958.
And while church members were devastated by the loss of the historic structure, they were also optimistic about the strength of the congregation.
“It’s beyond the sanctuary walls, we are family beyond the church walls. And we love each other,” church member Marquita Gill said. “It’s very devastating, but I know we’ll get over it.”
“All of this gives us yet another reason to redouble our efforts to be intentional about our involvement and commitment to this community,” Pastor Dew said.
Incredibly, even with their church engulfed in flames, members of the congregation hoping to gather in person for the Easter Sunday service will be able to do so after nearby Calahan Funeral Home donated their chapel at no cost to the church. .
“This church was left with no place to come to pray. We knew we could help, so we reached out,” said Shirley Calahan, vice president of Calahan Funeral Home.
“You can’t redo a life, but we can redo a building,” added Edward Calahan, president of Calahan Funeral Home.
“We hope there will be a revival, a recovery, a rebuilding, a resurrection so to speak,” Dew said.
At one point, a firefighter was seen being taken into an ambulance. Officials said he slipped on the street and twisted his ankle; he was not injured by the fire.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.
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