Fire Destroys Diocesan Offices in West Tennessee

Episcopal News Service. September 14, 2000 [2000-137]

(ENS) A 100-year-old building that served as the offices of the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee in Memphis was destroyed in a two-alarm fire on August 24.

No one was injured in the afternoon blaze. Nearly 90 firefighters on the scene successfully kept the fire from spreading to St. Mary's Cathedral, next door to the three-story diocesan offices. The fire was under control within 90 minutes.

The stone building, which once served as the bishop's residence, was under renovation. Workers were in the process of removing paint from exterior windows with blowtorches as well as scrapers. A spokesman for the Memphis Fire Department said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The Rev. Jeffery Marx, canon at the cathedral, noticed smoke in his office in the afternoon. He turned off his computer and left the building with colleagues. They watched the fire spread, causing the collapse of the roof in the rear of the building.

Firefighters were able, however, to stop the fire from spreading to the cathedral, although it was obvious there would be considerable damage from water and smoke.

"This is a real emotional time," said Dean C.B. Baker of the cathedral. "Everything is gone. Books, notes, financial records, sermon materials -- everything," he said in an interview with a local newspaper. "I'm just glad everyone was okay. All those things can be replaced -- but not really."

At first the firefighters found only smoke on the second floor but flames erupted when they opened a door on the third floor. Hand-held hoses were not sufficient to extinguish the flames growing in the walls, ceiling and attic.

Firefighters worked with church staff to remove items from the building, hoping to preserve some of the historic items.

The cathedral, the oldest Episcopal cathedral in the South had just completed a $650,000 renovation.

"This is really bad for us," said Marx, but "in terms of what we're about here and what we're trying to continue, this won't stop us."