Preservation Committee Members Say Massive Fire at Historic Delaware County Third Presbyterian Church Looks Suspicious – CBS Philly
CHESTER, Pa. (CBS) – The cause of a massive fire in Delaware County is under investigation after the blaze destroyed a historic church early Thursday morning. Members of the Chester Historic Preservation Committee told Eyewitness News the fire looks suspicious since the building was vacant and had no electricity.
The fire broke out in the former Third Presbyterian Church on the 400 block of 9th Street shortly before 2:30 a.m. Thursday.
Firefighters worked for several hours to extinguish the blaze which quickly reached five alarms. The church is now a shell of what it used to be.
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“From what we know at this point it was vacant,” said Chester Fire Marshal William Rigby. âWe came to a heavy fire throughout the building. “
Due to the age of the building, firefighters had difficulty accessing it. Throughout the morning there were multiple collapses at the church.
Seeing that it was vacant, the fire was attacked from the outside.
CHURCH FIRE: Fire at the Old Third Presbyterian Church at 420 E. Ninth St in #Chester is now at 4 alarms. Built in 1895, it currently houses the Chester Historic Preservation Committee and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. pic.twitter.com/9D39JcO7JH
– Trang Do (@ TrangDoCBS3) May 28, 2020
The building has not been used as a church for decades, however, it housed the Chester Historic Preservation Committee. As recently as last week, the committee expressed frustration at the delay in its attempts to restore the church. They wanted to restore the structure for weddings, performing arts and other events.
The committee has been trying to raise funds for years to preserve the historic church built in 1895.
Members say it has been vandalized in the past and that they have taken steps to keep intruders away from the 125-year-old building.
As officers from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms investigate the site, members say the fire looks suspicious.
“There were no live electrical components,” said Michael Jude Felock, a member of the Chester Historic Preservation Committee. âThere was no running water or electricity. A fire would start from faulty electricity but there was none. There was a roof, walls and stones. What could have happened? I have no idea.”
Seeing the centuries-old church destroyed was just too much for some onlookers.
“My husband, my son came from a long line of firefighters, so I saw a lot of fires, but seeing something of this magnitude, like that up close, it’s heartbreaking,” said passerby Gabriela Downey . âAgain, because I’ve been inside this church, I know what it looks like inside, history. I remember what it looks like on the inside. It’s sad because it’s, you know, a place of worship.
It is still a shock to many. Generations of families have been raised in the old church.
âMy mother worked there for about 10 to 15 years. Everyone knows her on the east side, âsaid Lynne Nicholson, a resident of Chester. “They planted a tree in his honor and it burned down last night.”
The restoration of the former Third Presbyterian Church âwas for the community and for the greater goodâ. The president, vice-president and a member of the board of directors of the Chester Historical Preservation Committee try to salvage whatever they can from the rubble. pic.twitter.com/kyNUC7UC3D
– Alecia Reid (@alecia__reid) May 28, 2020
âThis place helped us because we were poor here,â said Andrew Freeman, a resident of Chester.
The fire also spread to a nearby building believed to be a former school.
No injuries were reported.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
CBS3’s Trang Do and Alecia Reid contributed to this report.