The meetinghouse portion of the church was completely destroyed by the blaze.
The New Year did not start out on a positive note for the people of Somers.
The Somers Congregational Church, a landmark in town, was ravaged by a fast-moving fire that destroyed the meetinghouse portion — built in 1842.
Somers Fire Chief Gary Schiessl said a call came in around 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 1, 2012, saying that there was smoke in the area of the Somers Inn near the church. A firefighter who lives nearby called him, Schiessl said, to say there was heavy smoke and then called back to say that he thought there was a fire in the building.
An ambulance crew from the firehouse was next on the scene and confirmed that there was a fire. Schiessl arrived on scene shortly after and said that fire was blowing out the lower windows of the church.
From there, it didn’t take long for the building to be destroyed. (See this video posted to YouTube.
“By the time we were able to get a truck here and even set up, it had already wrapped up into the main portion of the building, and within 25 minutes, basically the entire church had collapsed,” Schiessl said. “Being an 1800s building, with a lot of old wood and stuff like that, it didn’t take much for it to go.”
He said that the main goal then became saving the house at 603 Main St., which was built in 1835. According to Somers Fire Marshal Robert Morpurgo, the home was damaged by the heat, including windows being broken and blinds being melted.
The home was to be boarded up and secured.
Schiessl said that once damage from the intense heat was spotted on the town hall, he became a little nervous.
With the collapse of the church, he felt a little better about the security of the nearby buildings.
“Once [the church] collapsed in, the majority of the fire banked down in and we didn’t have the same kind of heat,” Schiessl said. “The fire was receding into the back part where the addition is. We finally got that knocked down.”
It was approximately 1:20 a.m. when the fire was knocked down, though firefighters were still on scene well into the wee hours of Monday morning.
According to Schiessl, there is a firewall through part of the building and that’s pretty much where the fire stopped. He said that the section leading up to the firewall is pretty well destroyed because the roof is completely burned through and there is a lot of water damage.
“From there back seems to be in pretty good shape,” he said. “I’m sure it has smoke damage and stuff like that, but I don’t believe any fire got to it.”
The Somers Cooperative Preschool is in the rear and Schiessl said it will have to be inspected before people will be allowed to occupy the space.
The building is also home to Champ’s Place, a food pantry that helps to feed the needy. It is housed in the rear of the building, so the damage is hopefully minimal.
The frozen food that is being stored there will need to be moved and the pantry will not be open on Monday.
Departments from Ellington, Crystal Lake, West Stafford, Hazardville, and Shaker Pines were on scene to assist the Somers firefighters.
“You couldn’t do anything else, basically,” Schiessl said. “We stopped it the best we could and then there really isn’t too much that we could have said we could have done too much better to change the outcome. This is a situation where having the tower ladders — bringing in three of them — really helped. It was pretty intense for a while. It was hot. You had flames that were just rolling. It was one of those situations where you see the whole building engulfed and you can see the individual boards against the background because all the siding is gone.”
Morpurgo said that the cause and origin of the fire are still being investigated.
Despite the late hour, bystanders crowded the sidewalk in front of the town hall. Everyone stared in disbelief and several could be seen shaking their heads.
“This is just horrific,” Somers First Selectwoman Lisa Pellegrini said. “This was like the whole heart and soul of the community. It’s like the whole heart and soul of Somers just got ripped out.”
Selectmen Kathy Devlin and Bud Knorr were also on scene, along with State Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, who was married at the church over the summer.
Rev. Barry Cass
, pastor at the church, was also on hand. He received a phone call from the owner of Colonial Flower Shoppe, telling him that something was going on at the church. He rushed over and watched his church collapse.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Watching the steeple cave in, you’re thinking about all the things that have gone on there. It’s just incredible. We’ve touched so many lives. And all the other groups that are here. All these people who over the years, this has been a part of their life, part of growing up in Somers. People have connections — everyone in town I think. I think I’m in shock. It’s devastating. When the sun comes up, there’s going to be a big hole in Main Street. You could see the church steeple in the distance.”
Cass echoed Schiessl’s sentiments on how fast the blaze spread.
“I came right over and when I got here, I could see flames on the bottom level, but that was all,” he said. “Within a matter of minutes, it was sucked up through the whole building. It was very fast. By the time I walked around, the whole building was engulfed.”
Cass had a very positive outlook of the situation, however.
“On the other hand, the church is the people,” he said. “We still have the people and we still have the community who has always supported us. So I think we’ll be all right. Nobody was hurt. Things were destroyed that are irreplaceable, but they’re still just things. We’ll go on.”
He was also thankful for the fire department.
“The fire department is amazing,” he said. “They did a fantastic job.”
A prayer service will be held on Monday at noon either in the church parking lot or across the street. All are welcome to attend.