5-Alarm Fire Rips Through South Boston Church

This article is more than 7 years old.
Fire pours out of the roof of the St. John the Baptist Albanian Orthodox Church in South Boston. (Boston Fire Department)
Fire pours out of the roof of the St. John the Baptist Albanian Orthodox Church in South Boston. (Boston Fire Department)

A five-alarm fire destroyed a church in Boston on Wednesday, injuring eight firefighters and causing about $1 million in damage.

Deputy Fire Chief Robert Calobrisi said a 911 call to the fire at St. John the Baptist Albanian Orthodox Church in South Boston came in about 9:15 a.m. Firefighters found large flames upon arriving, and dozens worked about three hours to bring the blaze under control.

Parts of the roof caved in as flames shot through it, and crews had to back out of the church at one point because of the danger that it would collapse.

Calobrisi said the fire may have started in the altar; investigators were still trying to determine the cause. He said two firefighters needed stitches for lacerations and six others had less serious injuries.

Choir director Cynthia Vasil Brown, who was baptized and married at St. John, said she hoped some of the hand-painted icons of saints inside the church could be salvaged.

"I'll never forget when I got married and someone was in that steeple, pulling the bell," she said as smoke poured from the church.


The 54-year-old Ashland resident said about 80 families belong to the church, and most live in the Boston suburbs and drive into the city to attend Sunday services.

"These families have spent their lives here and so it means everything to us," Brown said.

The fire sent residents of a neighboring building, and their pets, fleeing for safety.

Erica Tutko, 34, said she woke up because her two English pointers were crying. She then heard a crackling noise and saw flames pouring from the church across from her window.

Melissa Ostrow, a 32-year-old photographer, said she grabbed her two cats and a few belongings and dashed out of her place. She also unlocked the apartment of a neighbor who was at work and brought that resident's dog to safety.

"There's not much we can do. Just trying not to cry," Ostrow said, as residents waited to hear if they'd be able to occupy their homes again.

The Very Rev. Arthur Liolin, chancellor for the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese, said all electrical and gas connections for the structure were under the church's altar. He said candles inside the church hadn't been lit since Sunday.

Church officials estimate the structure was built in the 1800s, and the present congregation bought what used to be St. Matthew's Episcopal Church about 60 years ago.

"I think that they will do everything they can to keep the community together and rebuild," Liolin said.

This article was originally published on August 21, 2013.

This program aired on August 21, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.