By Molly Daly, Oren Liebermann
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A four-alarm fire gutted a church in the East Oak Lane section of Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.
The fire was reported at about 1 p.m. at St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church located at North 12th Street and Oak Lane.
A tight-knit congregation is left grief stricken after the fast moving fire claimed their church only a short time after morning services.
Firefighters arrived to heavy smoke showing from the church. Fire officials say they started fighting the fire from inside the building, but when flames became too intense and spread too quickly, they had to get outside.
“I don’t know what to tell you more because it’s painful. But what can I do,” said one parishioner.
Fire officials say about 120 firefighters and 133 pieces of apparatus responded to the blaze.
Officials struck a fourth-alarm shortly before 2:30 p.m.
“Once the fire gets into the roof it spreads throughout the whole building,” said Deputy Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer.
Crews shut down power to about 150 homes in the area as the struggle became a defensive one for firefighters.
“If we had had people inside, it would have been a very, very bad situation so the incident commanders have been doing everything they need to do to protect the community, try to save the church as much as possible, and to make sure our men and women are protected,” said Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.
Firefighters doused the building from all angles trying to contain the fire to the center section of the church. If flames reached the bell tower, it might have collapsed onto the church and nearby street. Parishioners found it hard to explain their loss.
“I’m upset. I don’t understand how I can explain what I’m feeling,” said Igor Shunda.
Evdokia Trypupenko was at mass in the morning.
“Then I went to the celebration of Ukrainian independence, and somebody told me ‘the church burnt.’ I said ‘I cannot believe!’ but it’s true. I came from there, and here, it’s true,” she said.
Trypukenko says she was married in the church, as were her children and some of her grandchildren.
The fire was placed under control at 3:19 p.m.
No injuries were reported.
There is no word on a cause.
Stay with CBSPhilly.com for the latest information on this developing story…