Raging blaze hits church on Gay Street


An East Baltimore landmark was extensively damaged early today when a five-alarm fire swept through the Emmanuel Apostolic Faith Church in the 1300 block of N. Gay St., sending flames more than 30 feet into the air and heavy smoke over areas as far away as Fells Point.

The cause and origin were unknown. The two-story brick building was empty at the time.

Three firefighters suffered smoke inhalation and minor injuries and were released after being treated at Mercy and Church hospitals.

Donnell Evans, 36, a deacon, said he and about 50 other members had attended evening services that ended about 10 o'clock. He said everything had appeared normal when he and other deacons locked the doors and left around midnight.

The edifice, at the corner of Gay and East Hoffman streets several blocks north of Johns Hopkins Hospital, has housed several East Baltimore congregations over the years.

Mr. Evans said Emmanuel Apostolic Faith Church has been at the site about a dozen years after some two decades at other locations throughout the city.

Battalion Chief Hector Torres, a Fire Department spokesman, said that the first alarm was pulled at 12:44 a.m. and that the second and third alarms were pulled together at 12:49 a.m. The fourth alarm, he said, was sounded at 1:09 a.m., the fifth at 1:36 a.m.

The fire was declared under control at 3:16 a.m., Chief Torres said.

The blaze was discovered by Officer Keith DeVoe of the Eastern District, who had just made a traffic stop at nearby Federal and Wolfe streets when he noticed smoke coming from the church's front windows.

Within a few minutes, more than 100 firefighters arrived with 30 pieces of apparatus to find the building burning and the interior filled with flames and smoke.

While some firefighters played tons of water on the church from above and at ground level, others used mauls to batter huge holes through the concrete front walls to get inside where they could direct hoses on the inferno.

Large crowds gathered to watch.

At the height of the fire, as flames leaped into the air and dense smoke filled the neighborhood on southerly winds that carried sparks many blocks away, the church roof collapsed into the main sanctuary and Bible-study classrooms and offices.

At one point the smoke was so thick that it was nearly impossible to see the building from across the street.

Firefighters exposed to the dense smoke retreated to safety and were aided by their comrades.

One firefighter came off a ladder with his body and uniform smoking as though he was on fire.

L Moments later, he was back up the ladder and manning a hose.

The residents of at least a dozen nearby rowhouses were evacuated as embers landed on their rooftops. Water was directed onto those dwellings and onto an auto repair garage next door, and none caught fire.

Chief Torres said that the fire caused an estimated $140,000 damage to the structure, but that the value of the lost contents would not be known for several days.

The church's pastor, William S. Barnes Jr., was not immediately available for comment.

Regina Lee, who lives nearby at 1917 Hoffman St., said the church "is really going to be missed by a lot of people."

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