Fire leaves historic S. Boston church in ruins
BOSTON (WHDH) -- Thick smoke and flames rose up from the Albanian Orthodox Church of St. John the Baptist Wednesday morning. Several firefighters were injured in the fire that left the historic church in ruins.
“We believe the fire may have started in the altar, this isn’t confirmed. It may have spread up through the church itself, which is interconnected,” said Dep. Chief Robert Calobrisi of the Boston Fire Department.
For several hours nearly 100 firefighters battled the flames, which burned huge holes in the roof and collapsed floors and walls inside. There was concern the roof might collapse, so all firefighters were ordered out of the building.
“Wet ceilings, floors...it was right after we got the people right out of the building, I mean firefighters, out of the building, couple minutes later we had a collapse,” said Dep. Chief Robert Calobrisi of the Boston Fire Department.
Seven firefighters were treated by Boston EMS and transported to area hospitals. Injuries included heat exhaustion, a neck injury, two people had burns and two had cuts.
“I was at the bank and I was walking by and the whole side of the building was going up in flames,” said Tom Contini, a witness.
The church was first built as St. Matthews Catholic Church in the early 1800s. The Albanian Orthodox Church bought the building in the 1930s. Church leaders and members watched sadly as the historic building went up in flames.
“Everyone was baptized. My parents were married from St. John’s. It’s just very close to us. It’s part of our life,” said Sandra Nazzaro, a member of the church.
“Many prayers for weddings, baptisms and funerals have been held here -- a lot of emotion obviously with a house of worship such as this character,” said Very Reverend Arthur Lidlin of the Albanian Orthodox archdiocese.
The thick smoke filled West Broadway, which was shut down. Nearby businesses and apartments were evacuated and hundreds lined the street to watch.
“My parents came from Albania and they were one of the founders of this church. It means like a part of me is gone,” said Virginia Anastas.
“It’s sad, sad. It’s a piece of South Boston history,” said Sandra Ronca, a witness.
Crews will likely knock down what's left of a South Boston church after the building was damaged by fire.
Investigators said nothing is holding up the back wall of the Albanian Orthodox Church of Saint John the Baptist on Broadway Wednesday. There was concern the back wall could collapse onto nearby apartments. As a result, two nearby apartments are going to remain evacuated. The inhabitants will not be getting back into them until further notice and the American Red Cross put them up in hotels.
“And we actually just moved in last week. So it’s definitely a lot,” said Brittany Callahan, who was evacuated from her home.
Boston Fire Department says a crane will be brought in Thursday to knock down the back wall of the church. After that, people who live in 322 and 324 Athens Street behind the church will be let back in their apartments.
Firefighters believed the fire started in the back of the church, possibly in the altar, Wednesday morning.
Seven firefighters were hurt while trying to extinguish the flames. Injuries included burns and heat exhaustion.
The fire chief estimated the loss at $1 million. Te fire department said they will be bringing in a crane to take down the back wall on Thursday.
The cause of the fire was still under investigation but arson was not believed to be the cause.
Firefighters say they have not ruled anything out, but it does not look like this was a case of arson.