An overnight fire that was believed extinguished but then rekindled later Saturday morning destroyed the education building and former sanctuary at Grace Lutheran Church in Hatfield today.
Fire crews first responded to the church at 1:23 a.m. Saturday. PhillyFireNews.com reported that smoke was visible from the two-story building when firefighters arrived. They determined that the fire was in the basement of the structure and evacuated the church as it began to spread into the first floor of the building.
Flames were visible coming through the roof of the building a short time later as firefighters continued to battle the blaze from outside.
The fire was declared under control at about 3:30 a.m., but crews were recalled to the scene at about 9:30 a.m. when the fire managed to rekindle itself. Much of the structure's roof collapsed as flames again emerged from the top of the church.
Firefighters placed the fire under control for a second time at about 11:15 a.m.
"With structures this old, rekindling is a common problem," said Rob Bailey, AlertPage Regional Manager, who was at the scene. "They may have to come back several times."
The original sections of Grace Lutheran Church were built in 1904.
WPVI-TV reported that the current church sanctuary, where worship services take place, was undamaged by the fire and that Sunday services would be held as usual if electrical service were working.
Amanda Piccirilli, a staff writer with the Lansdale Reporter, said on her Twitter feed that the church would hold 9:15am worship services on Sunday, New Year's Day.
Members of a Hatfield nostalgia group on Facebook mourned the damage to the church Saturday afternoon.
"so many memories..I was baptized, married, children baptized, worked at Stepping Stones, my kids went to Stepping Stones..such a shame and very sad!" wrote Kerrie Garges, a visitor to the page.
Hatfield Fire Company was assisted at the scene by Towamencin Vol. Fire Company, the Volunteer Medical Service Corps of Lansdale, Hilltown Township Fire, North Penn Vol. Fire Co., Colmar Fire Co., Fire Department of Montgomery Township, Telford Fire Co. and Wissahickon Fire Co.
Earlier story and updates are below.
Update 11:15 a.m.: Firefighters at the scene have decided not to trench the roof. The teams report that the fire is now "under control."
While the fire is not completely out at this time, the teams will remain at the scene until it is. The trenching was deemed unnecessary as the teams have placed the scene under control.
Update 11:04 a.m.: Flames and smoke continue to poke through the structure's roof. According to firemen at the scene, the teams plan to "trench cut" the roof, allowing for more ventilation and to "try to get more eyes" in on the interior of hte church.
The two-alarm fire continues to be battled by area firemen. The teams say it is typical for such a rekindling to occur.
"With structures this old, rekindling is a common problem," said Rob Bailey, AlertPage Regional Manager, who is also on scene. "They may have to come back several times."
Update 10:49 a.m.: Flames are now visible through the roof at the church. The crowd around the fire has grown to around 100 people. Fire teams continue to fight the blaze.
Previously-posted story is below:
Both the Hatfield Fire Co. and Tylersport Station 12, along with Volunteer Medical Serivces of Lansdale, are reporting back to The Hatfield church began burning last night, and was thought to be over.
According to reporters at the scene, the roof is about to collapse on the structure and heavy smoke is pouring from the church. The fire rekindled around 9:30 a.m. forcing fire companies back to the scene.
Souderton, Colmar and Hilltown fire companies are also assisting at the scene, where a large crowd has gathered.
Patch reporter Keith Heffintrayer is on the scene and more updates will be posted as availble.