Fire Claims 171-Year-Old Church; Building Reduced to Ashes
CUMMINGTON, MA – On a day when many Hilltown firefighters would normally attend church services with their families, this Sunday morning’s calling would be different – the West Cummington Congregational Church was on fire.
The West Cummington Congretational Church, originally built in 1839, goes up in flames. The white sparks on the bottom right of the picture came from downed powerlines arcing in the snow.
It’s not known when the fire broke out, but the initial call to Northampton Control came in from a driver passing by on Route 9 at approximately 5:30 a.m. Flames that would ultimately destroy this 19th century building could be seen from the highway just across the valley. Goshen firefighters were called in as mutual aid to complete a first alarm and respond with an engine and manpower at approximately 5:45 a.m. Fire departments from Chesterfield, Hinsdale, Plainfield, Windsor and Worthington assisted Cummington firefighters on the scene.
Deputy Chief Rick Clark and Frank Burnett (Fire Police) responded to Cummington in 56-Rescue 1 while Fire Chief Sue Labrie, Captain Bob Labrie along with firefighters Jim Lyons and Jonathan Schwaiger followed close behind with 56-Engine 2. Deputy Chief Kim Dresser, Captain Steve Mollison, EMT Annmarie Dresser, and Junior Firefighter Kristopher Dresser remained at the station in the event of another emergency or a call for more equipment.
Sheets of corrugated metal roofing cover the smoldering remains of the building.
Responding firefighters picked up on the acrid smell of smoke from the fire as far away as The Creamery. The grocery store is located 5 miles to the east of the blaze.
Cummington Fire Chief Bernie Forgea reported the structure being fully involved when first arriving on the scene. Heavy smoke and flames were shooting out of the windows on the western side of the building and lapping up the wall towards the metal roof of this wood-framed structure.
Members from several neighboring Hilltown fire departments work together to drown the remaining hot spots at the church.
Upon arrival, Chief Labrie took a crew up to the fire scene to assist with the exterior attack. Firefighters Erika Orzel and Chris Roberts arrived a few moments later in their personal vehicle and provided additional support on Church Road. Deputy Chief Clark assisted with the coordination of the water shuttle operation that was now in place on West Main Street. Worthington Fire Chief Rich Granger and his team set up a fill site with their pumper just west of the town center. From there, water was drafted from the Westfield River and used to fill a series of tankers that cycled through the fireground. In the Hilltowns, this is one method of delivering large volumes of water to a fire scene since most areas in this western Hampshire County town do not have hydrants.
Goshen Firefighter Erika Orzel prepares to pour water onto the smoldering remains of the West Cummington Congregational Church.
Thousands of gallons of water combined with below-freezing temperatures had firefighters paying close attention to their footing on the fireground while a truck from the Town Highway Department spread a mixture of sand and salt on the roads to keep them passable. In spite of the ice-slickened conditions, no firefighters were hurt while battling the blaze.
Martha Emerson - a friend to all firefighters - finishes one of the several trips she made to keep hungry firefighters fed.
Worth Noyes, the closest neighbor to the church said he was awoken by a bright light coming in from the window of the room where he was sleeping. Knowing that the sun didn’t rise from the North, he got up and witnessed the fire engulfing the 171-year-old church. As he made his way along West Main Street, friends, neighbors, and parishioners had gathered and were exchanging personal memories of the church on the hill.
Bystanders in their pajamas and house coats can only stand and watch as their local church burns.
The fire tore through the entire structure leaving only the charred remains of the building’s tall frame. The outline of two gothic style doors in the front of the church stood as the only recognizable symbol of what used to be there. All that remained of a building that stood for nearly two centuries were sheets of corrugated metal roofing that lay strewn about the area where worshipers used to gather. Other metal objects like the armature of the church’s bell, pieces of the tin ceiling and door hinges could be seen sticking out of the debris pile. The fire was brought under control around 9:30 a.m. just when Sunday services had been scheduled to take place.
The fire is under investigation by the state Fire Marshal’s Office to determine its cause.
Part of the frame that holds the bell from West Cummington Congregational Church sticks out of the rubble.
Cummington Fire Chief Bernie Forgea goes over clean up plans with members of his department.
Firefighters from Cummington and Goshen roll hose as they begin the long process of breaking down operations.
(Sunday, January 17th, 2010)