Special gospel escapes Tucson church fire undamaged

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Church officials and parishioners at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church are picking up the pieces after a fire ripped through the building last night.

Investigators say the fire was sparked by a candle causing about $1 million worth of damage.

"It feels like the world just kind of shifted, a little emptier," said Basilion Castis.

Investigators say there were no sprinklers inside the church. The church wasn't required to have any since it was built in the 40s.

All day, parishioners have been going through the charred remains and believe there was a miracle in all of this.

Incredibly, a gospel made it through the fire undamaged.

"It was safe. It was like the only thing in the church that didn't burn," said Father Earl Cantos.

Cantos said the gospel bled and that they have attributed miracles to it. The case that houses the book was shattered, but the gospel survived.

The destruction is extensive. The church is deemed a total loss. Parishioners say the inside is virtually unrecognizable.

"All the icons are obliterated by the smoke and the damage," said Athene Polus, a parishioner. "It's very sad and very heartbreaking."

Investigators believe the fire started from a burning candle. There was so much smoke by time fire crews arrived, they had to cut two holes in the roof to let it vent.

"In this case the lack of oxygen burned the fire out, so there was heavy smoke damage outside," said Tucson Fire spokesman, Barrett Baker.

A church building that is home to the annual Greek Festival and other holiday lunches is now condemned. This year, the church would've turned 65 years old.

"We were going to have a large celebration but this is just unbelievable," said Diane Kollias, a parishioner.

Members say it's difficult to see their church in ruins. "There are so many memories. So many beautiful things that have happened here, baptisms, weddings, communion," said Castis.

In the meantime, services will be held at the youth center, on the same property next door to the church.

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