Lightning struck the steeple of the First Baptist Church Tuesday night and gutted the 147-year-old building on Common Street. (Anne Marie Tobin)
News, Police/Fire

Local departments come to Wakefield’s aid as a massive fire consumes a historic church

Crews from Lynn, Lynnfield, and Peabody were among the nearly two dozen fire departments that fought a seven-alarm blaze which destroyed the First Baptist Church overnight.

"We were asked to set up in front of the church to fight the heavy fire," said Lt Kevin Mutti of Lynnfield. " It was quite serious and we stayed on scene for seven hours."

Wakefield Fire Chief Michael Sullivan said he was grateful to all the communities, as far away as Middleton, who responded to the call.

"In total, we had 20 engines and seven ladder trucks," he said. "I've been on the job for 10 years and this is the biggest fire I've seen and the help was appreciated."

As the Boston Red Sox were preparing to take on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series at Fenway Park Tuesday night, lightning struck the church's 150-foot steeple at 7 p.m. Several 911 calls were received, as well as the automatic alert from the church on Common Street, Sullivan said.

"When we arrived, we spotted what we thought was a small fire at the base of the steeple," Sullivan said. "But as we threw water on it, the fire took hold of the steeple, broke through the wall and engulfed the church."

The fire spread into the 20-foot void in the ceiling, making fighting it very difficult, he added.

"It raced across the roof of the church and that was the end of it," said Sullivan."All that's left are the four outside walls and a skeleton of a steeple. They will have to raze what's left."

He said church fires are notorious to extinguish because of the height.

"We were lucky because there wasn't much wind," he said. "But it's a total loss we were still on scene Wednesday morning putting out hot spots."

Built in 1871, the 27,774-square-foot building is assessed at $4.5 million, according to The Warren Group. Sullivan said damage to church was in excess of $1 million.

Lynn Fire Chief Stephen Archer said when his three-person crew arrived in Wakefield on Engine 7 it was obvious the town had a major fire on their hands.

'The church was fully involved," he said. "But they had a very organized operation with companies from multiple communities surrounding the building and doing an effective job knocking the fire down and preventing it from spreading to other buildings."

"Fighting a large building fire like the church is challenging and requires lots of assistance to get it under control," Archer said. "When you are dealing with a steeple fire, attempting to get water to that height is a challenge you don't see everyday."

Peabody Fire Chief Steven Pasdon and Rev. Norman Bendroth, the church's pastor, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The church's website posted a picture of the fire with a message that read, "While we lost our historic building...we praise Jesus that our church community was kept safe. A very big thank you to the many firefighters who did their jobs with excellence, and to the outpouring of support from the community."

The church has established a GoFundMe page to raise $50,000. As of noon Wednesday, they had $645 in donations.

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