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Update: Multi-alarm Blaze at Union Baptist Church in New Rochelle

Firefighters from the area fought the stubborn blaze that tore through the 107-year-old historical structure and left some with smoke inhalation.

10:15 a.m., Feb. 14, 2011: City Manager Charles Strome said no cause has yet been determined in the Union Baptist Church fire. He said the building department will determine if the Main Street facade is structurally sound or will have to be demolished to prevent it from falling into the street.

Firefighters continued to work at the scene around 9:30 a.m., pouring more water on the charred remains of the building. The area around the church continues to be blocked off to traffic.

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7:04 a.m., Feb. 14, 2011: “I smelled the smoke at 1 a.m.,” said Jane Demondagnat, who lives across from New Roc's Stop & Shop. “I was checking my home, and the smell was coming from the front window. It smells like burnt wood. It is an old structure.”

Driving up Huguenot Street from the northeast part of the city shortly after 2 a.m., this reporter could smell the smoke from more than half a mile away. A thick black cloud of smoke blew northeast into Larchmont over a mile away.

Police tape was obvious at the intersections of Main Street and Echo Avenue (from the east), Main Street and North Avenue (from the west), Harrison Street and Fountain Place (from the north) and Church Street and Bonnefoy Place (from the south).

Emergency vehicles lined the perimeter, and fire hydrants a quarter mile away were being utilized, with hundreds of feet of hosing going up North Avenue to refill the trucks at the intersection of North Avenue and Clinton Place.

While the blaze was being battled, people lined nearby streets in clumps, as it was hard to find a good vantage point of the fire. Upwards of 50 people gathered on the south side of New Roc, a few hundred feet from the edge of the church, while another small group huddled under the sidewalk construction awning of 451 Main Street. People complained of not being able to go back to sleep and were surprised that—after a few hours had passed—the fire just kept on going.

Fire chiefs were mainly scattered behind the church, with many going to and from a firetruck in the parking lot of 16 Locust Ave. EMS and police along with firefighters stayed close to their vehicles.

Firefighter ladders were able to spray from three sides of the church, however, it seemed as though the wind made it difficult for the south-end sprayer to have sufficient impact, with much of the water not fully reaching the flames. A solid stream of spent water ran down Main Street toward the Armory. Residents reported discoloration and turbidity of city water while the fire was being fought.

When asked if squatters could have been in the building, Pastor Reginald L. Hudson said, “There should have been no one inside.”

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5:35 a.m., Feb. 14, 2011: Early Monday morning, residents of downtown New Rochelle were awakened to heavy, black smoke billowing from a large fire in the main steeple of the .

Firefighters from many municipalities including New Rochelle, Pelham and Mamaroneck were on the scene at the corner of Main Street and Locust Avenue well through 5 a.m. fighting the blaze. No injuries were reported as of 2 a.m., however, there were reports of people with smoke inhalation.

According to the police, a Monroe College student living in a dorm hall near the church reported the fire shortly after 1 a.m. By 2 a.m., the fire had spread from the front steeple of the brick-and-wood structure into the main section of the building.

The church's Pastor, Reginald L. Hudson, was informed of the fire a little before 2 a.m. from multiple parishioners.

“The fire apparently started in the bell tower, or that's where they saw the flames, they haven't gotten a chance to go in yet. Being an older building, a stone building, the officer I spoke with said that it could have started somewhere low and have traveled in a wall,” he said.

A Monroe College student saw the flames from their dorm building on Locust Avenue and called the police, said Pastor Hudson.

“God has brought us 99 years, and we're going to pull together," he said. "Don't get me wrong, it's painful, it hurts, but this is the day I can say that the church is not its location, it's its people."

With police, fire and EMS on the scene, no official comment was released.

Monae Shannon, a student at Monroe College who lives in a dorm downwind, heard about it from Facebook and smelled it out her window.

“[It was so strong that] it could have been inside, but then we looked out the window and we saw the church on fire,” she said.

The present church building was built in 1904 and served one of New Rochelle's earliest African-American religious organizations, established in 1913, according to the New Rochelle Downtown Business Improvement District. The building was added to the Westchester County Inventory of Historic Places in 1993.

The cause of the fire is unknown. Stay with Patch for updates on this story.

Aunt Sandy February 14, 2011 at 03:30 PM
Amazing photos - Union Baptist, I hope you rebuild. My sympathies to the congregation.

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