Thursday, May 6, 2010

Three-Alarm Blaze Guts Church in Richmond Hill

By Patricia Adams

A fast-moving fire spread through the Deeper Life Christian Fellowship Church on Thursday afternoon at 91-44 111th Street in Richmond Hill, destroying the church and severely damaging two neighboring homes.

More than 135 firefighters were called to the scene, where it took over six hours to put down the three-alarm blaze. Fire officials said the fire started at the around 2:24 p.m. after crews were called out to investigate downed wires from an electrical pole across the street.

Witnesses at the scene say that a large tree splintered in the strong wind, crashing into the pole and sending a tangled mass of wire down into the street. Firemen investigating the fallen tree and wires noticed smoke com- ing from the church and immediately sprung into action. But a short along the electrical lines in the wooden church led to a rapidly spreading blaze and firemen were forced to evacuate.

Rev. Charles Sadaphal, whose father is the founder of the People Life Christian Fellowship Church, was at the scene as the fire raged. “I think it’s the grace of God that this happened at a time when there was no activity in the church,” he said. Sadaphal told reportersthat the Pentecostal church was home to more than 500 congregants.

Dep. Asst. Chief John Sudnik explained the dangerous conditions at the scene, “Fires in churches are very difficult to fight because of all the concealed spaces. “We had to pull all the units out of the building due to the fire conditions. It got too dangerous to continue with an interior operation so we went to an exterior operation.” Five firefighters suffered minor injuries trying to bring the fire under control.

Representatives from the Department of Buildings (DOB) were on hand to examine all structures involved for stability while ConEd crews worked to sort out the downed lines and restore lost power to the area.

The Parks Department was at the scene and returned the next morning to remove the remainder of the downed tree and also to check other trees on the block for any stress weakness that may have been caused by recent strong pattern winds. Neighbors say they had previously complained to the Parks Department about the tree being dead but a spokesperson from the agency, Trish Bertuccio, told The Forum, “The tree was alive and was properly attended to by Parks.”

Fire marshals are investigating the fire but officials say it was likely the strong winds that caused the tree limbs to snap and spark the blaze.

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