Fire Destroys Historic Willimantic Church

By Stephania Jimenez
|  Saturday, May 18, 2013  |  Updated 5:54 PM EDT
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In Willimantic, nine fire departments respond to a fire at historic St. Mary's Church.

George Colli and Thomas Kienzler

In Willimantic, nine fire departments respond to a fire at historic St. Mary's Church.

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Emotions ran high in Willimantic on Friday morning, after a landmark church was destroyed by two fires.

“There’s significant damage,” Willimantic Fire Chief, Marc Scrivener said.

The 110-year-old St. Mary’s Church on Valley Street suffered broken windows and major roof damage, after two fires ripped through the building on Thursday night and early Friday morning.

“I was pretty surprised. [The street] was … dark from the smoke,” Carmen Cardona said.

The first fire broke out on Thursday evening in the back portion of the building. The flames were so powerful that firefighters from nine departments rushed in, surrounding every corner of the church to contain it.

Crews thought it was over until 4 a.m. on Friday, when smoke started billowing from the roof and a second fire ignited.

Chief Scrivener said it’s common for fires to reignite in older buildings,  like St. Mary’s.

“We have a lot of old structures [like that in Willimantic], that have a lot of hidden, void spaces. … We fully anticipated that and that’s why we were on the scene all night.”

Crews remained at the scene into the morning, checking for hot spots.

Now the fires are out and many are wondering when the church will re-open.

There’s a crack along the side of the building, which raises concerns about the integrity of the structure. No one is allowed in until a fire marshal completes the inspection.

The uncertainty upset many people in town who can’t imagine Willimantic without St. Mary’s Church.

“When I saw the church getting burned, I started crying,” Cardona said.

“It’s been there as long as I know,” said Mike Jolie.

Jolie told NBC Connecticut he’s ready to pitch in to make sure St. Mary’s Church is able to re-open soon.

“I’m going to go in and see if they need any help to put it back together, whether it’s clean-up or cleaning. … Whatever it takes,” he said.

An investigation is underway to determine what caused the initial fire.

Sister Mary Mark, principal of St. Mary's School, said the church has been undergoing renovations.

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