Frantic phone calls began circulating around 5:45 a.m. among parishioners at Harlem’s First Corinthian Baptist Church about the fire at their spiritual home just days before Christmas.
“My heart kind of like went into my throat,” church member Cheryl Smith told CBS 2’s Jay Dow.
As members arrived at the scene, they saw firefighters focusing their attention on the corner deli below the church.
“They located the fire right away and knocked it down and it didn’t go anywhere,” FDNY Chief Matt Lonegan said. “It stayed in the store.”
Firefighters told Pastor Michael Walrond it appears this was an electrical fire that ignited somewhere near a portable heater in the store.
Hemid Hezim, who owns the deli where the fire started and rents the space from the church, lost everything in the blaze.
Hezim said he remembered turning the heater off but officials believe the problem may have been with the connection to the outlet.
This morning, Pastor Walrond led his members in a moment of prayer outside the church and deli.
Members are well aware that with no injuries to report and a sanctuary that was not damaged that this could have been much worse.
“At the end of the day, these kinds of situations don’t deter what we have to do,” Walrond said.
The church building sustained a few broken windows and moderate smoke damage to some of its outer offices.
Chief Lonegan said based on a preliminary investigation the fire does not appear to be suspicious.
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