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Fire Severely Damages Historic Church In West Orange, NJ

WEST ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- A large fire severely damaged a historic church in West Orange, New Jersey.

The blaze broke out around 5 a.m. Friday at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Main Street. Video from the scene showed massive flames piercing through the windows and the roof of the church.

"First arriving company encountered heavy smoke and a large body of fire on the second floor," said West Orange Deputy Fire Chief Albert Souza.

The church has been there for more than 150 years, CBS2's Christine Sloan reported.

"It's horrible," said resident Jim Rose. "This was a church that's been here as long as I have been here."

A major loss, the church is older than the town.

"The church itself dates back to 1827, however the steeple, which has become an icon simple of downtown West Orange, dates back to the 1860s," said resident Joseph Fagan. "When veterans of the Civil War left West Orange, had they ever returned, they still would have recognized the steeple as a familiar place."

Former Deacon Vincent Dahmen remembers what it was like to be in a service inside in 2004.

"It's sort of like going into a museum, a lot of the original windows and artifacts are still there," he said.

Firefighters spent almost three hours bringing the fire under control. There are no reported injuries.

The church was sold about a year ago after it was closed by the Episcopal Diocese of Newark in 2004. It's now occupied by the Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal Church.

"Though it's a saddening thing and being the start of a New Year, but we know that this is just an obstacle for us and we're going to move forward and persevere," Senior Chaplain Douglas Hernandez told 1010 WINS' Samantha Liebman.

Hernandez said although they had a New Year's celebration Thursday night, the food was cooked off site and no candles were used.

Twenty years ago, a New Jersey preservation committee added the church to the 10 most endangered historic sites list.

Inside were things that can't be replaced including a marble alter, and a bronze eagle.

"It's sort of like going into a museum. A lot of the original windows and artifacts are still there," former Deacon, Vincent Dahmen said.

Members said they plan to rebuild.

"We want the public to know we're here and don't plan on going anywhere," Hernandez said.

In the meantime they will be looking for another building to rent for their services.

The organization with seven churches worldwide, including one in Newark and several in the Dominican Republic, has cancelled Sunday services.

Leaders said they have insurance and engineers are checking to see if the walls are structurally sound which would make rebuilding much easier.

The Essex County Prosecutor's office said it is aware of building code violations filed in 2015, but it was unclear if the violation led to the fire.

The fire is under investigation.

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