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BLAZE STRIKES HISTORIC FREDONIA CHURCH

Cause believed to be gutter hitting power transformer

Photo courtesy Village of Fredonia Firefighters were called to the Fredonia Family Church building Friday night after the steeple caught fire.

Just silence.

As ladder fire trucks climbed the heights of the clock tower of the Family Church Fredonia at 6:38 p.m. Friday, onlookers from Not-Fred Fest stopped to pause, and many recorded, the final ticks of the iconic symbol adjacent to Barker Common.

The weekend where students celebrate a festival that is now disbanded from SUNY Fredonia — Fred Fest — was in the epicenter of a multi-alarm blaze that severely damaged a historic building.

“It’s so sad,” Fredonia Mayor Athanasia Landis said as the fire neared its end at 8:05 p.m. “I am glad it’s not more; I thought in the beginning the whole building was going to go. It looks like, at least at the moment, it looks contained. Nobody was hurt (inside of the church when the fire began).

“I talked to Pastor (Michael Lokietek) and he has great resolve. He said everything is going to be rebuilt. I am thankful for that.”

The OBSERVER did see one firefighter taken by ambulance, although it appears those injuries were not serious.

Mayor Landis was informed by Fredonia Police that the strong winds may have taken a loose section of the gutters around the building, which hit a power transformer that is on the corner of the building. This was not confirmed as fire investigators have yet to make a final determination.

The church building houses the village clock. When Landis was told that the fire engulfed the clock via a phone call, she said she had to come immediately. Then Landis saw how bad it was.

“It was a wow (moment),” she stated. “… I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s going to collapse. The whole thing is going to collapse’ because I couldn’t even imagine that fire, that blaze (pause) … I thought it was going to collapse.”

Luckily firefighters from Fredonia, Dunkirk and beyond came in unison to help save the historic building.

Family Church of Fredonia bought the building in 2015 from First Baptist Church. That church used the facility for 200 years.

The church building is also the location of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union’s first meeting. Also, 19 Church St. had roots dating back to the underground railroad.

“It’s an old building, a beautiful building,” Landis said. “They did a lot of work — 1 million dollars I think, and it’s really iconic. It’s part of our downtown, so it’s certainly sad to see this happening.”

On the church’s website, fcfredonia.org, there is a post on the building when it moved in. It includes many of the renovations that were done as well as the aspiration to restore the clocktower, before the fire. There was a gofundme page called “Fredonia Clocktower Restoration” by “Family Church” that was created on July 6, 2017. It has received $3,100 out of its goal of $100,000.

To see more on the fire, go to observertoday.com and look for the post “PHOTO GALLERY: Fire engulfs church tower in Fredonia” to view the photos and videos as firefighters battled the flames.

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