Fire ravages 126-year-old Brunswick church; faulty wiring blamed
BRUNSWICK — A destructive fire broke out at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Pleasant Street early Monday morning, the fourth major fire in town since January.
The rear of the 126-year-old church was severely damaged by flames, and the sanctuary sustained serious smoke and water damage. No one was injured in the fire, which was caused by faulty electrical wiring, according to Fire Chief Ken Brillant.
The damage was estimated at $250,000, and the church was valued at $422,000, according to a report by Deputy Fire Chief Don Koslosky.
Firefighters responded to the scene at 1:19 a.m., after a witness reported smoke coming from the back of the church. When firefighters arrived, the fire had spread to the attic and "thick nasty smoke was rolling out of the steeple," Brillant said.
With help from the Topsham, Bath, West Bath and Freeport fire departments, firefighters managed to stop the flames from spreading throughout the church. Fire trucks remained at the scene well after the sun rose, with the steeple still smoldering.
The Rev. Sylvia Stocker, the church's minister, arrived after receiving a call from the Brunswick Police Department. When she arrived, she said, smoke was pouring from the church and firefighters were everywhere.
When she learned they were about to enter the sanctuary, the reverend said she alerted them to the location of a historic bible signed by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
To her great relief, firefighters were able to retrieve the bible and its glass case, which received minimal smoke damage.
While there were no human casualties, a large stained glass window was broken and the church organ pipes were destroyed.
The window was built by the Swanson family in honor of their daughter, who died in her early 20s. It featured mountains, a sail boat, and one rose for every year of her life. The window had been a part of the church since the 1970s, Stocker said. Firefighters were forced to break it while extinguishing the blaze.
In the morning, parishioners waded through ankle-deep, sooty water that filled the sanctuary, moving pews and carrying out anything that could be salvaged.
They rescued candelabras, silver dishware, and even a grand piano, which was relatively unharmed. Wearing rubber boots, Judy Chamberlain, chairwoman of the board of trustees, boxed hymnals in the entryway as firefighters covered the church's broken windows with plastic sheeting and strung police tape around the perimeter.
On Sunday, the church held a coming-of-age ceremony for the youth of the congregation.
"It was packed, there wasn't a seat available ... yesterday was our church at its finest," said Lynn Ellis, a parishioner.
Since its founding in 1812, the Unitarian Universalist Church has occupied four different locations in town. The Pleasant Street building was a replacement for its prior address at the corner of Maine and Mason Streets, which burned down in 1884.
"(This is) the legacy of a burning church," said the Rev. Brad Mitchell, the church's former minister.
On Monday morning, Stocker said she hadn't spoken with the insurance company yet, and wasn't sure whether or not the church would be rebuilt. But she said the congregation would definitely hold services in the future, beginning this Sunday at 9:15 a.m. at Curtis Memorial Library.
Recent fires have destroyed the large apartment buildings at 18 Oak St., 84 Union St., and 45 Maine St., which also housed five businesses.