senior reporter, adapted from Echo
A church was gutted and homes evacuated after a fire hit Westcliff,
South-end-on-sea in Essex, England, on Monday, March 10, 2014.
Firefighters were called to the Seventh-day Adventist Church
about 4:15 a.m. as flames ripped through the church. There were fears the fire
could spread to neighboring buildings after the blaze reached the top floor
window of the property next door.
About a dozen people were evacuated from nearby homes as the
fire threatened to spread. Resident Jason Rayment, said, “I just thought it was
a car alarm going off. Then the guy who lives opposite knocked on the door
about 4:00 in the morning. He was banging and shouted through the letterbox
saying the place next door was on fire. I had a quick look around and there was
basically an inferno. I knocked on everyone else’s doors.”
Five residents of nearby flats waited on the street until the
smoke had cleared before going back. Isabel Ehlers, was told to leave her house
with her husband, Lennart, and their three children, aged 11, 9, and 8. “I could
see the flashing lights. My husband said, ‘There’s a massive fire next door,’
and it was really quite hot. We weren’t in any danger really, but it was quite
a scary thing to happen.”
A neighbor opposite put her family up in their house while the
Ehlers waited to be allowed back into their own home. Five people were examined
by paramedics, but none needed hospital treatment.
Fire crews spent nearly an hour and a half putting out the
blaze. They returned about 9:00 a.m. to dampen the debris after police spotted
smoke billowing out of the church.
A police spokesman said, “Police have been liaising with the
Fire Service over the cause of the blaze and believe that it was started
Trevor Thomas, pastor of the
Seventh-day Adventist Church, was still waiting to be allowed to look inside
when the Echo spoke to him.
He said it was too early to know the
full implications of the blaze, but that in the short term its weekly Sunday
meals for the homeless and an educational program for children would have to be
The congregation also regularly collects
for people in other countries, something Thomas hopes can continue.
The church has hosted between 25 and
45 homeless people for a meal every Sunday between 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. for
the last 21 years. “I’m afraid that will have to be put on hold
until alternate arrangements can be made,” said Thomas.
As for the future of the church
itself, he said: “I’m still waiting to be able to see inside. All
I can say is that God is good, He will provide a way for us to go forward, our
church is part of the community here, and part of the community of churches in
the area. I usually find when
something of this nature happens local churches rally together and I hope that
will be the case here.”
Thomas said some activities may be
moved to congregation members’ homes. “We were actually just looking into
innovative ways we could reach out to the community.”