Historic church fire in Brooklyn, arson suspected

Photo from FDNY Facebook page

By LISA EVERS, Fox 5 News Reporter


NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) - A 19th-century Brooklyn church that was a hub for Superstorm Sandy volunteer efforts was damaged in a fire early Sunday morning.

Fire officials said more than 100 firefighters were dispatched to the blaze around 4:00 a.m. at the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in the Clinton Hill section. No one was injured. 

The Episcopal Church has played a pivotal role in sandy relief efforts and in the community. Now the clergy and congregation are wondering why someone tried to set it on fire.

"This is not something you expect you know?" said Ian Nelizaire, church acolyte.

The Reverend Michael Sniffen, church pastor of the St. Luke and St. Matthews Church, told Fox 5 Sunday morning someone doused the front doors with gasoline, and then set them on fire. Sandy relief volunteers, who were sleeping in the basement, smelled the smoke and called firefighters.

"They arrived very quickly and they put the fire out before it spread into the sanctuary itself," said Rev. Sniffen. 

Because firefighters arrived so quickly, the damage was confined mostly to the vestibule. But the church was temporarily closed while NYPD detectives, including some from the arson squad, worked the scene.

"I was so sad and very upset, I said who could do such a thing like this?" said Lucille Hill a church member. 

Many hours later, Rev. Sniffen was allowed back into the church to assess its condition. The church has played an important role in the community for years and especially in the Sandy response, says Council Member Letitia James.

"There are surveillance cameras on both angles on this block and so after the police review those video tapes, I'm sure we will apprehend this sick, demented individual," said James.

Pastor Sniffen said now the hope is that some good will come of this incident.

"Fire is also cleansing and I think we're going to come through this stronger than we were," said Rev. Sniffen.

Church members and other volunteers had collected and wrapped about 500 toys for kids whose Christmas was looking bleak because of Superstorm Sandy. Fox 5 has learned the toys were in the basement and not destroyed by the fire –- so they'll be able to have a Merry Christmas after all and maybe so will the congregation.

The pastor told Fox 5 he's optimistic they'll be able to have Christmas Day services.