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Flames erupt from Warwick church ahead of Thanksgiving

West Bay

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A Warwick church is severely damaged after flames engulfed the building, destroying its steeple the night before Thanksgiving.

Firefighters responded to Woodbury Union Church around 7:30 p.m. following reports of heavy smoke and fire coming from the building.

According to Acting Fire Chief Marcel Fontenault, the fire started outside of the building and quickly spread up the siding and into the attic.

“We did have crews make entry to try and head it off, but they were met with too much fire and we had to pull them out because it got into the attic space and the steeple area,” Fontenault said.

Crews worked for hours to pour water on the flames, focusing on the inferno in the church steeple. The charred steeple eventually collapsed under the force of the water from multiple hoses.

Fontenault said they do not believe anyone was inside the building when the fire broke out, and no one was injured.

George Tarring, the head of maintenance for the Presbyterian church and a lifelong member, told Eyewitness News he locked up around 12:30 p.m. and was most likely the last person inside the building.

“It’s very, very sad to say the least,” Tarring said.

Tarring said he was baptized at the church and his grandfather was one of the church’s founders more than 100 years ago.

He said Boy Scouts normally meet in the church on Wednesday nights, but didn’t hold their weekly meeting because of the Thanksgiving holiday. 

This is not the first time a fire raged through the church, which was built in 1908. According to the church’s website, a fire swept through the building in 1933, though the congregation was able to rebuild what was damaged. The building was eventually enlarged as the amount of worshipers grew.

Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon said the church is an important part of Conimicut Village.

“It’s been a part of this community for a long, long time,” Solomon said. “It’s a partner in this community, a lot of parishioners are from this community and outside this community.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the state fire marshal, though fire officials said it does not appear to be suspicious at this time.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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