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July 13. 2014 9:33PM

Three-alarm fire damages Nashua church; parishioners out safe


Fire crews battle a large fire that broke out Sunday evening at the Heritage Baptist Church in Nashua. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON/Union Leader Correspondent)

NASHUA -- A local church community is temporarily without a home following a three-alarm fire that broke out during a Sunday evening service.

About 70 parishioners were inside the Heritage Baptist Church at 103 Lock St. when the fire ignited around 7 p.m. A 14-year-old volunteer in the church nursery smelled something burning, and after a brief search eventually noticed smoke coming from behind an attic door.

“I went to the chapel and told everyone about the fire,” said Emily Hicks, adding all of the children inside of the nursery were immediately evacuated, along with the rest of the congregation.

“I was frightened,” admitted the teen, noting the church's internal fire alarm was activated.

When fire crews arrived there was heavy smoke showing from the building, according to Deputy Fire Chief Michael O'Brien Sr. The fire was heavily engaged within the 2-1/2 story brick building, and the blaze worked its way to the attic, he said.

The building, which previously housed a private French social club, sustained heavy smoke, fire and water damage, in addition to some exterior damage, said O'Brien.

“They will be displaced for a while,” he said of the church family. “The building is not habitable.”

Brian Denny of Litchfield, a church member, said he was relieved and grateful that all of the parishioners and firefighters were safe and accounted for.

“The building can be repaired. We will rebuild,” said Denny.

Pastor Larry Hileman was leading a church service at the time of the blaze. His daughter, Rebecca Sanchez, said once everyone evacuated the building they all joined hands and began praying for the safety of the crews battling the blaze.

“It is very emotional to watch this,” she said as firefighters conducted overhaul operations once the fire was deemed under control around 8:45 p.m. “My dad had the vision to make this function hall a church, so this is hard to see.”

Still, Sanchez said the congregation is hopeful that the church will be able to repair the facility and remain in the French Hill community where it has been operating since 2005.

O'Brien said the fire is still under investigation, but it does not appear suspicious. The cause of the fire was still undetermined as of late Sunday night.

khoughton@newstote.com


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