(NECN: Alysha Palumbo - South Boston) - Fierce flames tore through this South Boston church Wednesday morning, sending thick plumes of smoke pouring into the tightly woven streets around West Broadway and shooting into the sky.
Anne Buechs works on Broadway and said, “We came out about 9 o’clock and there was just black smoke coming out of the church.”
The call originally came in as a grass fire behind the church, but firefighters quickly realized the flames were coming from inside St. John the Baptist Albanian Orthodox Church.
“Firefighters forced entry into the building, there was heavy fire inside around the altar, it extended up the walls, into the ceiling and roof area and just traveled horizontally to the front of the building,” said Deputy Fire Chief John Hasson
Hasson says with the age of the church – dating back to 1860 – and the pace at which the fire was growing, it wasn’t long before the building started crumbling.
He said, “Firefighters were inside when the ceiling started coming down and they ordered an immediate evacuation.”
Deputy Chief Hasson says surrounding homes and businesses were evacuated too.
He says there’s already been a partial collapse of the roof and back wall of the church.
Hasson said, “The roof’s probably going to come down and then we’re going to be chasing hot spots all day.”
“I’m devastated, I’ve been a part of this church all my life,” said Virginia Anastas of Stoughton.
Anastas was overcome with emotion seeing the church she grew up in and played the organ for since she was 14 destroyed by fire.
Her daughter Stephanie Susen of Walpole says this was more than just a place of worship for their family.
Susen said, “You can’t put into words all the years of memories up in smoke, thank God no one was hurt, but my grandfather was one of the original founding members of the church, my parents received all their sacraments here, I did, my children did, this is very, very sad to see.”