West Side church catches fire

May 30, 2011 3:41:19 AM PDT
An early Saturday morning fire gutted a church in Chicago's West Side Lawndale neighborhood.

At Temple of Praise on the Far South Side, there were prayers for those affected by the fire Saturday night. The fire at New Life Temple Church, 3540 W. 15th Street, has left its 150-member congregation heartbroken. "It's very devastating," said Evangelist Elondia Brown with the New Life Temple Church.

When firefighters arrived at the church just after 6 a.m. Saturday, it was engulfed in smoke and flames were shooting through the roof.

"It started with a little smoke, then went to a big ol' flame. Then it got real bigger," said witness LaTonya Matthews.

"Companies made an aggressive attack, even though churches are known to be dangerous structures. The guys did the best they could, and they did a great job," said Assistant Deputy Commissioner John McNicholas with the Chicago Fire Department.

A total of 125 firefighters were called to battle the blaze, which heavily damaged the interior of the more than century-old church.

"Really was unexpected. We were just here last night worshipping, and everyone kind of took it hard, very hard, you know, but we're going to move forward," said New Life Temple Church's Youth Minister Louis Wimbley.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but church officials say they've been told by the fire department it might have been electrical in nature.

"There were never any candles in there. We don't use candles in our church," Brown said.

The interior sustained heavy fire and smoke damage, and furniture, a sound system and other valuable items are a total loss. The church's exterior, however, held strong.

"The structure itself was well-built, contained most of the fire, and we had a wide open space in that area, so it didn't really get a chance to burn up too high, and the interior walls were pretty solid. So that was a good thing," McNicholas said.

Already, there have been several offers for help from other churches, but instead of holding Sunday services elsewhere, the congregation plans to gather outside their damaged church Sunday for prayer and reflection.

"We gotta move forward. Gotta get up from where we are and keep going," Wimbley said. "It's going to take faith. It's going to take trust. Gotta trust God is going to see us through it. He never brought us to this place to leave us here."

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