Watch CBS News

"We are resilient": Community vows to rebuild after church fire

"We are resilient:" community vows to rebuild after church fire
"We are resilient:" community vows to rebuild after church fire 02:50

FLORENCE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) -- It took hundreds of firefighters and nearly six hours to bring an 8-alarm fire at a church in Burlington County under control.

The flames are out Tuesday afternoon but we are getting a better view of the widespread destruction at the Fountain of Life Center in Florence Township.

Investigators say the ATF is now part of an investigative task force to determine what sparked the massive fire. Nothing is being ruled out at this time and we're told those fast-moving flames caused nearly $30 million in damages.

The church is a staple in this community and parishioners say this will only make them stronger.

"Heartbreaking," Merle Harper said. "It's really heartbreaking. It's hard to believe."

Standing against the yellow caution tape outside the Fountain of Life Center, Harper paused to pray as he looked in disbelief at the widespread destruction. He's been a member for 25 years.

"We are resilient and we're going to build back bigger and better," Harper said.

Smoke was still billowing from the crumbled concrete Tuesday afternoon. The raging inferno caused the church's roof to collapse and walls to crumble.

All day long parishioners have been holding back tears looking at their house of worship reduced to rubble.

"I have no words, there's so many memories here," Kattie Harris said. "My daughter grew up here from birth."

Chopper 3 was over the towering flames Monday night that quickly spread through the sanctuary. CBS News Philadelphia has told kids playing basketball behind the church first saw the smoke and reported the fire.

It quickly jumped to more than eight alarms and 200 firefighters across South Jersey were forced to bail out of the building within minutes and switch to an exterior attack.

"It's just the size of the building, the visibility, the heat conditions and not being able to quickly find the seed of the fire," fire administrator Robert Tharp said.

The K-12 school next to the church was saved but is now closed for the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, church leaders vow to rebuild and stand united.

"We know that God did not start the fire," Bob Newman said. "But we know that we can utilize his assistance in moving forward in rebuilding."

Church leaders held an emergency meeting.

We're told services will be held Sunday morning at the Life Center behind the sanctuary.

Church community in Florence Township plans on moving forward after fire 02:15
View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.