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5-Alarm Fire Destroys Historic Southie Church

Firefighters work to quell Wednesday's fire at St. John the Baptist Albanian Orthodox Church in South Boston. (Jack Lepiarz/WBUR)

Firefighters work to quell Wednesday’s fire at St. John the Baptist Albanian Orthodox Church in South Boston. (Jack Lepiarz/WBUR)

BOSTON — Eight firefighters suffered minor injuries battling a five-alarm blaze that destroyed a historic church in South Boston on Wednesday.

Firefighters said the initial call came in as a grass fire, but that the blaze quickly spread to St. John the Baptist Albanian Orthodox Church, near the altar.

Deputy Fire Chief Robert Calobrisi said the blaze also prompted the evacuation of 12 residents in neighboring buildings.

“We’re waiting for a structural engineer to show up on scene so he can make a determination [about] the stability of the church and if it would compromise the other buildings,” he said. “All of them are out of there now but we don’t want to put them back in there until it’s safe.”

(Boston Fire Department)

(Boston Fire Department)

Eight firefighters suffered minor injuries — for cuts, burns and heat exhaustion — in the three to four hours it took to knock down the heaviest flames.

Arthur Liolin — chancellor of the Albanian Archdiocese, which oversees the parish — called it a sad day for St. John’s 200 to 300 members.

“We have two orthodox parishes right here and they’d be welcome to join us until they decide what they want to do,” he added.

Firefighters set up a safety zone around the church, in case it collapses, and closed streets immediately surrounding the church, at the corner of Broadway and F Street.

The damage to the 150-year-old building is estimated at more than $1 million.

Saint John The Baptist Church was built in 1862, originally as a Protestant church. Then, after 34 years as a Jewish synagogue, hosting the temple Ohabei Shalom, it was bought by the Greek Orthodox community in 1921.

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