BOSTON – Officials say an electrical short caused a five-alarm fire that heavily damaged a South Boston church and injured eight firefighters.

The Boston Fire Department said Thursday the problem arose in a ceiling light fixture in a vestibule behind the altar at St. John the Baptist Albanian Orthodox Church.

The fire started Wednesday morning and was brought under control about three hours later. It caused about $1 million in damage, collapsing part of the roof and heavily damaging the rear of the building.

Residents of another building behind the church remained evacuated because of concerns the rear of the church might collapse.

Church officials estimate it was built in the 1800s. The present congregation has used it for about 60 years.

Deputy Fire Chief Robert Calobrisi said two firefighters needed stitches for lacerations and six others had less serious injuries.

Choir director Cynthia Vasil Brown, who was baptized and married at St. John, said she hoped some of the hand-painted icons of saints inside the church could be salvaged.

“I’ll never forget when I got married and someone was in that steeple, pulling the bell,” she said as smoke poured from the church.

The 54-year-old Ashland resident said about 80 families belong to the church, and most live in the Boston suburbs and drive into the city to attend Sunday services.

“These families have spent their lives here and so it means everything to us,” Brown said.

The fire sent residents of a neighboring building, and their pets, fleeing for safety.

Erica Tutko, 34, said she woke up because her two English pointers were crying. She then heard a crackling noise and saw flames pouring from the church across from her window.

Melissa Ostrow, a 32-year-old photographer, said she grabbed her two cats and a few belongings and dashed out of her place. She also unlocked the apartment of a neighbor who was at work and brought that resident’s dog to safety.

“There’s not much we can do. Just trying not to cry,” Ostrow said, as residents waited to hear if they’d be able to occupy their homes again.

The Very Rev. Arthur Liolin, chancellor for the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese, said all electrical and gas connections for the structure were under the church’s altar.

Liolin said candles inside the church hadn’t been lit since Sunday.

Church officials estimate the structure was built in the 1800s, and the present congregation bought what used to be St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church about 60 years ago.

“I think that they will do everything they can to keep the community together and rebuild,” Liolin said.


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