(Updated 12/30/2013) Members of the Northeast Baltimore community were awakened by the sound of sirens in the early morning hours of Dec. 27 as the Baltimore City Fire Department responded to a four-alarm blaze on the corner of Loch Raven Boulevard and Cold Spring Lane.

Emergency crews confronted flames pouring out of the Northwood-Appold United Methodist Church, where Dr. Cecil Conteen Gray is pastor.

“At 3:22 a.m. we received a private alarm fire signal from the address. Units went to the scene to investigate and discovered that there was an active fire inside the building so they immediately called for a full first alarm,” Baltimore City Fire Department spokesman Ian Brennan said Dec. 27.

“The fire spread rapidly through the building and it quickly went from a second to a third alarm and eventually became a four-alarm fire. It wasn’t brought under control until about five minutes after 11 a.m.”

Brennan said that more than 100 firefighters were needed to knock down the fire, an effort which lasted well through a shift change at 7 a.m.

“Once they noticed the roof and the steeple were fully involved they pulled members of the fire department out,” Brennan told the AFRO, adding that no firefighters or civilians were hurt in the incident.

Fire crews were able to contain the flames but the blaze caused significant damage to the church itself, located in the 4400 block of Loch Raven Blvd., along with the church offices and supplemental classrooms also inside the building.

Baltimore police were on hand along with federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents to begin an official investigation, as the blaze occurred within a building used for religious purposes.

On Dec. 30, fire crews could still be seen investigating the damage along with Baltimore Gas and Electric emergency response crews.

According to officials, police and ATF agents will continue their investigation to determine whether an act of arson was behind the fire.

“It was surreal,” said Stephanie Hayes, of what she saw when she arrived just before 6 a.m. on Dec. 27. “I just couldn’t believe that I saw fire coming out and this was my church.”

Hayes, a long-time trustee of the church, described the fire as “heartbreaking” because “all you could do was just stand there, look, and realize there’s nothing you can do.”

More than 100 community and congregation members crowded inside the Education Center located directly across from the Northwood-Appold United Methodist Church Sunday, vowing to rebuild the edifice.

“It was a spirit of love and unity,” Hayes told the AFRO, of the service she says brought back old faces and a host of guests wanting to show support.

“We will rebuild,” she said. “Definitely.”

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer