NY Church which serves as Occupy Sandy hub suffers “suspicious” fire

Firefighters outside church early Sunday morning. Credit Ellen Moynihan.

Firefighters outside church early Sunday morning. Credit Ellen Moynihan.

A two alarm fire broke out in the historic Brooklyn, New York church, the Church of St Luke and St Matthew,  yesterday morning. The church, which is 124 years old, made of stone and terra cotta, is designated a city landmark.   One hundred firefighters fought the blaze for over 90 minutes, according to the Wall St Journal. The fire started in the entrance way of the Episcopal church. The Rev. Christopher Ballard, the church’s curate, said the flames had caused “significant damage,” burning the wooden doors of two entrances and charring the foyer. The sanctuary, he said, remained largely unscathed.  Two historic chairs that were in the lobby were destroyed.  No one was injured.

The church had been operating as a hub storing supplies for Hurricane Sandy relief for “Occupy Sandy”, a relief effort associated with Occupy Wall Street.  Though the police said the cause remained under investigation, they were on scene investigating, and labelled it “suspicious”, according to local ABC News. Rev. Ballard said the fire had been fueled by a pair of gasoline containers donated to Occupy Sandy volunteers.  He said he was told by police that it “appeared someone had taken the gas and poured it on the entrance and all along the facade and lit it on fire.”  The gasoline was intended for generators for a Christmas party yesterday in the Rockaways, an area heavily hit by Hurricane Sandy.  Ballard also noted, regarding the gas,  “You’d have to know it was there”.

Three Occupy Sandy volunteers were sleeping in the church at the time the fire started. According to an Occupy site coordinator, they were there as a security precaution after a spate of thefts that included donated materials and Rev. Ballard’s bicycle. The volunteers made it out safely.  The fire did not appear to have affected the donated supplies, despite earlier reports that they were destroyed. The Occupy Sandy coordinator noted they would likely now be helping to clean out the church.  Their twitter account associated with the location also called for people to bring and donate poinsettias to help decorate the church today.

Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents the area, expressed outrage at what she called a hateful arson. “We will find the sick individual who committed this crime,” she said, standing outside the church.

Rev Ballard said the church would be back open this evening for services.

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