FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Firefighters battled a massive blaze that sparked inside a church in Fort Lauderdale days before Christmas, and officials said they were alerted by a watchful bystander who saw smoke billowing from the building and called 911.
Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue units responded to the scene of the fire at Mount Bethel Baptist Church in the area of Northwest Ninth Street and 12th Avenue, Saturday night.
“Just after 7 o’clock, we were called to a report of a structure fire,” said FLFR Deputy Chief Garrett Pingol.
Twenty-five units arrived at the scene to find flames filling the two-story house of worship.
“We went to an aggressive attack mode,” said Pingol.
Crews discovered the fire began in the sanctuary, the main auditorium of the church, but officials have not specified what caused the flames to start.
“It was a fire isolated to the first floor of the church,” said Pingol.
Even more frightening: there was no initial alarm that went off in the church.
“Somebody within the area had noticed that there was smoke in the building, and they alerted us.” said Pingol.
Fire crews cleaned up the mess and assessed the building. From the outside, there isn’t much visible damage, but officials said looks are deceiving.
“Because of the size of the building, it does a very good job at hiding what actually occurred inside,” said Pingol. “What you’re seeing outside — the cleanliness of the building, the lack of smoke showing or fire that came out of windows — is no example of what actually occurred inside in the main auditorium or sanctuary of the church.”
Fortunately, there was no one inside the church at the time the fire broke out, and no one was injured.
But just before Christmas, a community will have to find another place to worship.
“Our hearts go out to them and their followers of the church, especially this time of the year,” said Pingol. “I’m sure many of them had planned on being here throughout the rest of the holiday season, through the new year, to celebrate each other, and unfortunately, it’s not going to be possible this year.”
The congregation was held through a Facebook Live on Christmas Eve morning, to celebrate the holidays as they figure out the next step.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
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