Chicago firefighters battle massive fire at Englewood church

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A fire destroyed a beloved landmark church in Englewood Friday afternoon.

Firefighters were called to Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in the 6300-block of South Stewart Avenue around 2:15 p.m. A fire appeared to have started on an upper floor and quickly spread throughout the structure.

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By 2:25 p.m. CFD had escalated their response to a 2-11, and then to a 3-11 at 3:07 p.m. More than 194 firemen and 54 apparatuses responded to the scene, the fire department said.

WATCH: CFD update on Antioch Church fire
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Deputy Fire Commssioner Donald Walker gives update on massive fire at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Engewood.

Most of the building's truss roof had collapsed by 3 p.m., department spokesman Larry Langford said.

It was unclear if anyone was inside the church when firefighters were dispatched, he said. The fire appeared to begin in the upper rear of the church, where crews first noticed heavy smoke. Flames could be seen coming out windows of the church in a video posted to social media.

"This church is an anchor in this community," said Lead Pastor Gerald Dew. "This is a place where people have gotten married, found their faith, they've been encouraged, they've been equipped and empowered. It's a neighborhood church."

The cause of the fire was not immediately known and remains under investigation. Chicago fire officials officially declared the fire struck out shortly after 4 p.m., though firefighters were still fighting flare-ups and hotspots for several hours after.

"Most of the roof is gone," Langford said. "It was a very popular church in the Black community."

Dew said he does not believe anyone was inside the church at the time of the fire. Shortly before the blaze began, church members had filled the pews for holiday services to mark Good Friday.

"I know this: If we've got to lose something, losing it on Good Friday is the best time to lose it because after Good Friday comes resurrection Sunday," Dew said.

And while church members were devastated by the loss of the historic structure, they were also optimistic about the strength of the congregation.

"It's beyond the walls of the sanctuary, we are a family beyond the church walls. And we love each other," said Marquita Gill, church member. "It's very devastating, but I know we'll get past it."

"All this does for us is gives us a greater reason to redouble our efforts to be intentional about our involvement and commitment to this community," Pastor Dew said.

At one point a firefighter was seen being taken away in an ambulance. Officials said he slipped on the street and twisted his ankle; he was not injured by the fire.

Pastor Dew said that while the church itself may be burned, they will find a way to hold services on Easter Sunday.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.
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