ENGLEWOOD, N.J. -- An inferno consumed an historic Englewood church Tuesday night, turning its steeple into a torch and blowing through the sanctuary's roof.
UPDATE: The sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in Englewood was destroyed by fire Tuesday night, but The Rev. Richard Hong said Wednesday that wise firefighters "saved the part we use every day" -- including classrooms and offices. Officials also announced that an 11 a.m. Easter service will be held at bergenPAC. READ MORE....
Dozens of firefighters from several area departments joined their Englewood colleagues at the 19th Century church on East Palisade Avenue after the multi-alarm blaze broke out shortly before 8 p.m. -- filling neighborhoods with smoke driven by northwest winds.
Firefighters inside were quickly removed in favor of an aerial attack, as flames tore through the sanctuary before collapsing its pitched roof. No one was inside at the time, said the Rev. Richard Hong, the church pastor.
Along with the devastation came the destruction of First Presbyterian's Möller pipe organ -- Bergen County's largest -- which was restored and expanded five years ago.
Aid came from, among other towns, Bergenfield, Bogota Englewood Cliffs, Hackensack, Leonia, Ridgefield Park, Teaneck and Tenafly.
Officials said there was no immediate word on a possible cause; investigators would make that determination beginning Wednesday morning.
Located a few blocks east of the downtown shopping district, the Victorian Gothic landmark was built in 1870, a decade after it became Bergen County's first Presbyterian church. Congregants hail from more than 30 towns.
"Having been raised in this church, as was my father, my heart is sad tonight," said Margo Clark Swezey of Midland Park. "I do know the great strength of First Presbyterian Church and I am sure that it will prevail."
Hong said school was cancelled for the week and arrangements would be made for future instruction and the weekend's two scheduled Easter services.
"I just want to express my gratitude to the firefighters, as I see them put a tremendous effort into doing what they can. I just want everyone to be safe," Hong said at a command station across the street.
"We don't know where we will hold Easter," he added, "but organizations in the community have reached out, for which we are grateful. Thanks for the well wishes and prayers."
As word spread Tuesday night, messages of support flowed in from near and far -- among them, offers from congregations in Brooklyn and Albany.
"To our dear friends at First Presbyterian, please know that I and the whole St Paul's Church in Englewood Parish Family holds you in prayer," the Rev. Dr. William H. Allport II wrote. "What ever ways we are able to support you in the immediate and on-going days of recovery, we are here with you.
"In these days of Holy Week, the Tridiuum, and Easter, know that you are welcome, always!"
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