Four-Alarm Blaze Guts Pittsburgh Church

Jan. 26, 2009
The fire spread to two neighboring buildings.


The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has joined city and Allegheny County arson investigators at the former site of North Side Institutional Church of God In Christ, where a large blaze destroyed the building.

"What we see now is a loss, but I think God is going to do great things for the community. We're here to serve the community," church member Nina Darkins said.

Heavy flames and thick smoke emanated from the church in Pittsburgh's California-Kirkbride neighborhood while 60 firefighters from several companies tried to extinguish the fire Sunday night.

Within 10 minutes, the fire on California Avenue ignited into four alarms at about 7 p.m. -- an hour after a scheduled worship service was to take place. The service had been canceled due to inclement weather.

"We will accept this as His will," said Lola Thorpe, the church's pastor, whose husband founded the church.

When firefighters arrived at the scene, the church's windows appeared to be completely blown out. Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones said the church's traditional construction fueled the fast-moving flames. The fire spread to two neighboring buildings.

"This type of construction, the high-vault ceiling -- once the fire gets a foothold, it's hard to put out," he said.

A witness told WTAE Channel 4 Action News that a smoke cloud was visible several hundred feet in the air above the church.

No one was reported injured.

Thorpe said the congregation will rebuild.

"We're here to serve the people and the community," she said.

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