A 140-year-old Highlandtown church undergoing roof repairs was heavily damaged yesterday afternoon in a three-alarm fire, the third Baltimore church this summer to be engulfed in flames.
The fire started about 4 p.m. on the top two floors of the three-story New Light Church at 200 S. Highland Ave., not long after roof repair workers and a church official had left at about 3 p.m., Baltimore Fire Department spokesman Capt. Kevin Cartwright said.
No cause had been determined, Cartwright said, and fire officials could not say whether the roof repairs over the past two days played any part in the fire.
Witnesses said flames and smoke poured from the roof and out of a row of smokestacks along the top of the church. Giovanni Staiti, a city government employee who lives two blocks away, said he feared the fire would gut a vacant rowhouse he owns in the neighborhood.
The First Mount Olive Free Will Baptist Church, on West Saratoga Street, caught fire July 11. Two weeks later, the Gateway Church of Christ, at Fulton Avenue and Baker Street, was heavily damaged in a three-alarm blaze.
New Light Church's pastor, the Rev. Benedict Dorsey, said he was thankful that no one in his 150-member congregation was in the church during the fire.
"It's a building, these things can be replaced," Dorsey said. "Our major concern is rebuilding and finding a place to worship on Sunday. We hope we can rebuild."
Dorsey said he shares the Christian church with a Hispanic congregation and that it offers several community services, including prayer services, bible study and a food pantry.
The New Light Church purchased the building in November 1999 for $185,000 from Highland Methodist Church after New Light's previous landlord sold its storefront location at 911 E. Baltimore St., according to state records, Dorsey and other church officials.
Dorsey said God told him eight years ago that he would find a new place in 40 days, a prediction that he said came true when he found the Highland Avenue location. He said yesterday that he trusts that God will again help the congregation find a new location.
For Sunday's service, the congregation will meet at 11:30 a.m. at the Community Action Center at 3411 Bank St.
"It had beautiful stained-glass windows," Dorsey said, as firefighters used a powerful stream of water to break apart the charred remains of glass dangling from the top of the two-story front window. "It was simply gorgeous."