Up in flames
BROCTON – A massive fire engulfed a historic East Main Street church in the village of Brocton early Sunday morning and kept fire crews from seven local companies busy for hours.
The Tri-Church Parish building near the heart of downtown Brocton was deemed a total loss by Brocton Fire Chief Brian Woleben, who said the fire started around 1:30 a.m. and took five hours for crews to get under control.
A weary Woleben answered the phone when the OBSERVER called him shortly after 3 p.m.
“I actually just got back home from it,” he said.
Woleben said it was tough to say what the precise extent of damage done to the building was due to its brick outer structure, but the wooden roof was burned off completely.
He said some firefighters were released around 6:30 a.m., when the fire was finally declared under control.
“There wasn’t much else they could really do to help,” he said.
Woleben confirmed no one was in the church at the time of the fire. One firefighter was taken to the hospital to get checked out as a precaution, but turned out to be fine.
A home located next to the church received minor damage as a result of the flames. No one was inside at the time.
While the cause of the fire is still under investigation by the Chautauqua County Fire Investigation Team, Portland resident Emily Hanson believes the fire started in or around the church’s kitchen, from where the flames seemed to originate.
“I was sitting with my friend at the St. Stephen Hotel a couple buildings down from the church and we started to smell smoke, so we figured something wasn’t right,” Hanson said.
She and her friend dialed 9-1-1 after seeing the fire. Firefighters told them not to get any closer than across the street, diagonal from the church.
“At first we thought it was a house fire, but as we got closer to what we saw as this big burst of flames, it was actually at the church,” Hanson said. “We didn’t know which building it was until we were right next to it.”
Located at 35 E. Main St. in Brocton, the Tri-Church Parish is a combined Lutheran and United Methodist congregation. The OBSERVER attempted to contact the parish to ask about the church’s future, but calls were not immediately returned.
Throughout the day, many local residents and parish members went down to the church to see the extent of the damage. Hanson, who attended pre-school and Sunday school there, was one of those people.
“This church was so beautiful, both on the inside and the outside,” she said. “The organ in there was just so beautiful, too.”
Woleben wanted to thank the mutual aid companies who assisted Brocton in dealing with the fire, including Portland, Stockton, Westfield, Fredonia, the City of Dunkirk and the East Town of Dunkirk. The Chautauqua County Fire Police and the Office of Emergency Services also responded.
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