Lebanon's First Baptist Church engulfed by fire
UPDATED WITH MORE PHOTOS: Three alarm blaze broke about shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday night
LEBANON, NH - A 150-year-old church in the heart of downtown Lebanon was gutted by fire late Wednesday evening.
The blaze in the First Baptist Church which was built in 1866 at the corner of School and Green Streets just off the southeast corner of the Lebanon green broke out around 11:20 p.m. Wednesday and quickly roared to a full third alarm.
"About 11:22 this evening we got a call reporting an odor of smoke in the area," Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos recalled at the scene. "Our guys responded from Station One right around the corner and on arrival found heavy smoke coming from the church. My duty officer immediately upgraded it to a second alarm to get the resources they needed. It's an old building and there was a lot of fire in the rear. Shortly thereafter it was upgraded to a third alarm."
One firefighter suffered a shoulder injury and was transported to the hospital during the first phase of the fire suppression effort but Chief Christopoulos said he was expecting the injured firefighter to be quickly treated and released.
A total of four residents and a small dog had to be evacuated from a couple of nearby houses due to the fierce flames and the potential for the steeple to collapse but as the early morning hours passed and the fire was largely knocked down and declared under control at 3:20 a.m. fire crews escorted the residents back into their homes.
Throughout the night firefighters tried to see if they could push over the badly damaged steeple, which houses a large bell about mid-way up, using large "master streams" of water from the three ladder trucks and later shoving it by hand with pike poles but as the sun came up the steeple was still firmly upright and as a result officials were conferring as to whether or not they would be able to reopen busy School Street to regular downtown traffic.
Chief Christopoulos said any guess as to a cause for the blaze Thursday morning would be "way way too preliminary" but he noted that a New Hampshire State Fire Marshal was on scene to assist Lebanon's investigation. "There's nothing right now that's suspicious," Christopoulos said, pointing out that almost any fire involving a church gets close scrutiny by investigators.
"It will take a while to poke around. There are still some structural issues we are concerned about and right now we don't even want to put people inside," the shell that remains of the church, Christopoulos said.
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