A two-alarm fire has severely damaged an Episcopal church in Brooklyn, NY that has been serving as a storage and distribution hub for the Occupy Sandy relief effort, just two days ahead of Christmas. According to CBS News New York, fire department officials say that the blaze was intentionally set.
The fire reportedly broke out around 4:00 a.m. on Monday at Brooklyn’s Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Clinton Hill. More than 100 firefighters responded to the scene, bringing the blaze under control in about an hour. Much of the damage was to the church’s lobby area and no injuries were reported.
“The ceiling’s gone, the walls and doors are all burned out,” church rector Rev. Michael Sniffen told Alex Silberman of WCBS. Fortunately, he reported, nothing in the sanctuary was damaged and the church hopes to hold Christmas Eve services as scheduled.
Father Chris Ballard said, “We believe that it was arson. There are some gas cans that were found at both entrances. So, it was intentional. Services have been canceled for today and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are on hold. We probably won’t be able to get back into the church by then but this is the season of reconciliation and what darkness lives in the hearts of the person who did this, we don’t know. But this is the season to forgive and try to be compassionate for the illness that this person has.”
Ballard said that the gas cans had been at the church ready to be donated as part of the Occupy Sandy effort, in which people associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement have turned their attention to providing relief to New Yorkers still struggling with the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy, which slammed into the region in late October.
“I don’t know who would do this, especially around Christmas,” said volunteer Kelly Gunther.
Another Occupy volunteer named Sparky told CBS that three relief workers were sleeping in the church when the fire broke out.
“Luckily, we had people here to catch it in time and got the call in real quick,” he said. “Since about a week after the storm, we’ve been using this location as a main distribution hub sending cleaning supplies, immediate aid, first aid supplies, non-perishable foods. Basically, any needs the communities have reported to us, we’ve put them through an Amazon and We Pay wedding registry and sent them out to the field.”
The volunteers have been collecting toys and other Christmas gifts for children in need after the storm.
“Yesterday, we had a huge wrapping party and they’re all in garbage bags so hopefully they’re all ok. There was no fire down there,” Sparky said.
Watch video about this story, embedded via WCBS, below: