Bronx, New York church destroyed in suspicious blaze

Monday, March 8, 2010

Second-alarm flames engulfed a Bronx, New York church, St Nicholas of Tolentine, just before noon on Friday, forcing its pastor and seven worshippers into the streets.

The blaze began in a confessional-converted-storage room near the vestibule of the church. "I rushed over and smoke was billowing out," said Father Joseph Girone. Girone rushed parishioners through the church rectory door as the entrance had been blocked.

Over 100 firefighters fought the blaze, and several reported minor injuries due to ceiling collapse.

Fire Department (FDNY) officials immediately suspected arson. "The fire accelerated rapidly [and] it was a heavy fire that didn't have the normal flow of a fire", said FDNY Deputy Chief Kevin Scanlon. Investigators are determining whether the fire is related to a series of church burnings that have been occurring across the borough.

Parishioners are distraught by the destruction of their beloved church. Father Joseph Tran said, "The whole vestibule is damaged. The ceiling, the walls and the doors". Isabel Gonzales, a regular attendant for 28 years, said, "I feel sorry and I want to cry because this has been my home away from home for a long time". A church official reported that it was too early to determine construction lengths or repair costs.

Devoted worshippers promised that they would hold a "Stations of the Cross" gathering outside on Friday night.