HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church of Harrisburg is still standing after Tuesday night’s fire, but it was a close one.
Fire officials determined faulty fridge wiring in the basement was to blame for the blaze, leaving crews no choice but to rip out some of the pews to get to the fire below.
Most times, church fires result in severe destruction, but thanks to some faith in Harrisburg firefighters and a higher power, that didn’t happen.
“I equate fires to going to battle. The work that the troops put in — we won the battle, and we beat the fire,” said Harrisburg Fire Chief Brian Enterline
“Definitely, it is a miracle,” said Father Girgis Ramandious, the parish priest.
It’s the miracle on 17th (and State) Street.
“Fire brigade, firemen if they were delayed 10 minutes, this beautiful church would not be there at all,” Ramandious said.
Just 10 minutes separated the church from total destruction, and Enterline said, there’s a reason for that.
“These are large, open structures. They have huge walls that go up. They have large timbers underneath that can burn for hours and hours,” Enterline said.
Parishioners are thankful for those firefighters and a higher power.
“Without this church, we are nothing. We are nothing because our life — our eternal life, which is more important than our life on earth is in this church,” Ramandious said.
That life is now preserved for its 300 devotees. It’s not an easy task, says Enterline, considering the thick layers of flooring blocking the fire and the conditions themselves.
“They’re using axes. They’re using poles and things like that to pull this stuff up, all in about a zero visibility condition, and on top of that, it’s hot,” Enterline said.
How did they pull it off? Enterline said it was two reasons — help from neighboring departments and sheer determination.
“[It was the] work ethic of every firefighter that arrived on scene, willing to work and put in a little more than 100 percent,” Enterline said.
St. Mark’s is giving their 100 percent, too. While they re-assess and rebuild, they’ll need the community’s help.
“I’m not just insisting the help is a money one, no. We need the help for them to pray from the depths of their heart,” Ramandious said.
St. Mark’s parishioners are meeting with an insurance agent on Friday to assess the damage and see if they can simply close off the damaged side of the church and hold services as normal. They say if they cannot, they will try to find an outdoor space to accommodate their three-hour service.