NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A two alarm fire severely damaged a Brooklyn Episcopal church just two days before Christmas.
Much of the damage is in the lobby of the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Clinton Hill.
WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reports
“The ceiling’s gone, the walls and doors are all burned out,” church rector Rev. Michael Sniffen told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman.
Nothing in the sanctuary was damaged in the blaze, however, Sniffen said. Church officials said they are hopeful the church will be open for Christmas Eve mass.
Officials said the fire broke out around 4 a.m. and took firefighters about an hour to bring it under control. More than 100 firefighters were on the scene helping to extinguish the blaze.
No injuries were reported, CBS 2’s Amy Dardashtian reported.
Church leaders said the timing of the fire alone seemed suspicious.
“We believe that it was arson. There are some gas cans that were found at both entrances. So, it was intentional,” Father Chris Ballard told CBS 2’s Dardashtian. “Services have been canceled for today and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are on hold. We probably won’t be able to get back into the church by then but this is the season of reconciliation and what darkness lives in the hearts of the person who did this, we don’t know. But this is the season to forgive and try to be compassionate for the illness that this person has.”
1010 WINS’ Eileen Lehpamer reports
The gas canisters were at the church ready to be donated to Sandy victims, Ballard told 1010 WINS’ Eileen Lehpamer.
Ballard said it’s possible that whoever set the fire was familiar with the church or the Occupy Sandy relief effort, Lehpamer reported.
Ballard said the suspected arsonist “poured gas in front of the entryways and then lit the doors on fire.”
Since superstorm Sandy hit, the church has been a hub for volunteers helping out in the relief effort.
“I don’t know who would do this, especially around Christmas,” volunteer Kelly Gunther told Silverman.
Occupy Sandy volunteers have used the church to store goods for residents in need.
Three volunteers were sleeping inside the church at the time the fire broke out, Dardashtian reported.
“Luckily, we had people here to catch it in time and got the call in real quick,” a volunteer named Sparky told CBS 2’s Dardashtian.
“Since about a week after the storm, we’ve been using this location as a main distribution hub sending cleaning supplies, immediate aid, first aid supplies, non-perishable foods,” Sparky said. “Basically, any needs the communities have reported to us, we’ve put them through an Amazon and We Pay wedding registry and sent them out to the field.”
Volunteers also collected Christmas gifts ready for kids affected by Sandy that were stored in the basement of the church.
“Yesterday, we had a huge wrapping party and they’re all in garbage bags so hopefully they’re all ok. There was no fire down there,” Sparky said.
Investigators are on the scene looking into the cause of the fire.
“The fire in our hearts for love and peace and justice is far more powerful than any physical fire in the world,” Sniffen said.
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