In the early hours of Christmas Eve Day, flames tore through the front doors of St. Luke and St. Matthew, a Clinton Hill Episcopal church. The church has served as a distribution hub and operational headquarters for the Occupy Sandy relief operation for more than a month.
The FDNY responded with more than 100 fire fighters to the two-alarm fire, and were able to bring the blaze under control within an hour and a half, but not before it had damaged the doors, the roof of the entryway, and a pair of 19th-century chairs.
More disturbingly, the fire was likely started by arsonists. The NYPD is calling the blaze “suspicious,” and is investigating. Church officials are being more specific. They say the fire was started after someone threw gasoline on the church doors and started the blaze. The gas had been left outside the church with other materials scheduled to be transported to the Rockaways as part of the hurricane recovery efforts.
Three Occupy Sandy volunteers were asleep in the church at the time of the blaze, but managed to escape safely and immediately called 911.
Rev. Christopher Ballard, the church’s curate, told the New York Post that he saw evidence that suggested the arson might be part of a religious feud:
The Rev. Ballard said that the blaze was started with gasoline from the holiday cans and that he found pamphlets from an undisclosed ultraconservative church, which he said “were used as kindling.”
The church cancelled some of its services, but was able to reopen for Christmas day.