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Fayetteville church fire deemed an accident

Posted March 26, 2015

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— Investigators said Thursday that a fire that damaged a historic Fayetteville church was "unintentional, accidental in nature."

Smoke was billowing from Saint Joseph’s Episcopal Church, at 104 Moore St., when firefighters responded to the Tuesday evening blaze. The fire started near a side entrance, went up a gazebo and through a wall into the attic.

The sanctuary sustained water and smoke damage, but no injuries were reported.

"What I was surprised at is the interior is not as bad I thought," St. Joseph's pastor, Rev. Teddra Smith, said Thursday. "God was watching over us. I mean, he sent his angels."

Firefighters agree it was a miracle they were able to save 85 percent of the wooden church, which was built in 1896.

St. Joseph's, which has about 50 active members, is deeply rooted in the Fayetteville's black community. After separating from St. John's Episcopal Church in 1873, many of its founders helped create the Howard School, which eventually became Fayetteville State University.

The fire has pulled the two churches back together in time for Palm Sunday this weekend and Easter on April 5.

"We are going to embrace St. Joseph's on Sunday as they worship with us – or we worship together – and begin Holy Week," said Rev. Robert Alves, pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church.

Investigators said they couldn't rule out a discarded cigarette as the cause of the fire. Smith said she found cigarette butts and cooking cans on the porch last week, adding that she believes homeless people were cooking and trying to stay warm next to the church.

Now, she said, the fire has sparked an interest in a new ministry at St. Joseph's to help the homeless.

"Not pushing them away but doing something to help them obtain a place of safety," she said.

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