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Historic Middle Collegiate Church Destroyed In East Village Fire; Cause Under Investigation, FDNY Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A damaging fire in the East Village spread to several buildings and destroyed a historic church early Saturday.

It was a traumatic morning for so many people who scrambled to evacuate, CBS2's Christina Fan reported.

The skies above the neighborhood glowed bright orange as firefighters poured everything they had into battling flames that reached the roof.

"The flames was real high. I got the video to prove it. It's heart wrenching right now," said witness Robert Puryear.

Drenched in the cold, wet rain, Rev. Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft watched helplessly as flames climbed towards the steeple of the nearly 130-year-old Middle Collegiate Church. Minutes earlier, firefighters told her the sanctuary had already been destroyed.

"It's absolutely the worst call ever. I feel like I'm living a nightmare, right now. Walking here in the rain is just compounded in this whole year," she said.

First responders believe the fire started on the first floor of a vacant building on 2nd Avenue and 7th Street. By 5 a.m., it had grown exponentially in size, spreading to the church, a third building and threatening a women's shelter next door.

middle collegiate church fire
A fire that started in a vacant building in the East Village spread to the historic Middle Collegiate Church. (credit: CBS2)

"It was in minutes, from around the corner to that church. It was minutes. It was very scary, and the ladies were running in their slippers, in their bathrobes, in their pajamas. They were sleeping," said Olga Rodriguez, who works at the shelter.

All Rodriguez could think about were the women. She was emotional talking about where they would go if the building is deemed unsafe.

"These ladies have gone through a lot. They don't need to go through this, too. So, I'm happy that we got them out safe," she said.

The buildings were either damaged or destroyed, fire officials said.

First responders told CBS2 four firefighters suffered minor injuries and the cause of the fire is under investigation.

The fire chief told Fan the building on 2nd Avenue last caught fire in February.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will do whatever it can to help the church rebuild.

If you would like to help the congregation during these difficult times, please click here.

The church will hold a virtual celebration Sunday. You can join it at 11:45 a.m. on the church's website, or on its Facebook or YouTube accounts.


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