• Southie church fire sparked by electrical short circuit


    BOSTON (MyFoxBoston.com/AP) — The five-alarm fire that destroyed a South Boston church started in a light fixture in the vestibule area, according to Boston fire officials.

    The Boston Fire Dept. tweeted the cause of the fire at St. John the Baptist Albanian Orthodox Church on Wednesday was an electrical short circuit in a ceiling light fixture. Fire officials said the building had old "BX" wiring.

    The fire broke out at about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday and quickly spread to multiple alarms. Firefighters found large flames upon arriving, and worked about three hours to bring the blaze under control.

    Parts of the roof caved in as flames shot through it, and crews had to back out of the church at one point because of the danger that it would collapse.

    Eight firefighters were injured and the blaze caused about $1 million in damage.

    Emergency officials Thursday said that a small portion of the low roof and back wall would be demolished but the rest of the structure could remain standing for now. Tenants who were evacuated would be allowed to return to their homes as soon as the roof and wall demolition took place.

    Fire officials said the fire may have started in the altar; investigators were still trying to determine the cause. One firefighters was tested for a breathing issue while another needed surgery after suffering a serious cut to the leg. Six other firefighters were treated for less serious injuries.

    Choir director Cynthia Vasil Brown, who was baptized and married at St. John, said she hoped some of the hand-painted icons of saints inside the church could be salvaged.

    "I'll never forget when I got married and someone was in that steeple, pulling the bell," she said as smoke poured from the church.

    The 54-year-old Ashland resident said about 80 families belong to the church, and most live in the Boston suburbs and drive into the city to attend Sunday services.

    "These families have spent their lives here and so it means everything to us," Brown said.

    The fire sent residents of a neighboring building, and their pets, fleeing for safety.

    Erica Tutko, 34, said she woke up because her two English pointers were crying. She then heard a crackling noise and saw flames pouring from the church across from her window.

    Melissa Ostrow, a 32-year-old photographer, said she grabbed her two cats and a few belongings and dashed out of her place. She also unlocked the apartment of a neighbor who was at work and brought that resident's dog to safety.

    "There's not much we can do. Just trying not to cry," Ostrow said, as residents waited to hear if they'd be able to occupy their homes again.

    The Very Rev. Arthur Liolin, chancellor for the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese, said all electrical and gas connections for the structure were under the church's altar. He said candles inside the church hadn't been lit since Sunday.

    Church officials estimate the structure was built in the 1800s, and the present congregation bought what used to be St. Matthew's Episcopal Church about 60 years ago.

    "I think that they will do everything they can to keep the community together and rebuild," Liolin said.

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