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'It's Just Unbelievable': Parkside Community Heartbroken After Historic West Philadelphia Church Bursts Into Flames

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A massive fire engulfed a historic church in West Philadelphia on Tuesday with flames shooting into the air and thick smoke filling the Parkside neighborhood. Some 100 firefighters rushed to the scene shortly before 3 p.m. on the 1400 block of North 52nd Street.

Now an emotional pastor speaks out after his church, Greater Bible Way Temple, burst into flames.

A brief hymn was sung by congregants who gathered to watch as their beloved church in West Philadelphia was destroyed.

Greater Bible Way Temple leader Bishop Benjamin Peterson was stunned after a three-alarm fire ravaged the building. He's simply giving thanks that no one died.

"I'm thankful nobody got hurt," Peterson said.

Viewer video showed what appears to be a worker with a propane tank on the lower level roof. Seconds later -- the roof now on fire -- the bishop himself can be seen bringing a ladder to that man. The two then are able to get to the ground.

Within minutes, the first fire trucks arrived. But already some were working nearby, acting as first responders.

"It's just so sad, man, and to be that close to it and see everything -- it's just unbelievable," witness Pressley Gordy said.

Gordy normally sells household goods near the church. He says the rectory next door had been converted to apartments and he helped evacuate those living inside.

LIVE: Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel provides update on massive church fire in West Philadelphia. DETAILS:

Posted by CBS Philly on Tuesday, August 27, 2019

"I ran over there. I told the people to get out and then I ran inside to try to get the people out," Gordy said. "Someone called me and said the church is on fire and I just rushed home."

Dorothy Thomas is one of the tenants. She's glad no one is hurt but is concerned for her cat inside.

"I'm praying yes, because my windows are open and I'm worried about all of the smoke," Thomas said.

Smoke that engulfed a staple in this West Philadelphia community, maiming what once was a place so many gathered to worship.

"To see that happen so close, it's a tragedy," Gordy said.

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