The Chicago Fire Department has identified the cause of an extra-alarm fire that engulfed a historic church on the city’s South Side Wednesday morning, citing the blaze to be sparked by spontaneous combustion.
In the early hours of the morning, dozens of police and fire crews worked for hours to battle down the massive blaze at the Christ the King Catholic Church near 64th Street and Woodlawn Avenue.
Fire officials said the combustion was likely ignited by rags that were not stored properly by volunteers that were helping stain the floors of the choir's northwest side sanctuary the previous night. They were using a finish called Old Mill, fire officials said.
Volunteers had stopped working at the church at 10 p.m. Tuesday, officials said, after helping in a large-scale renovation of the 92-year-old building. Authorities think the rags used were left with the residue near plastic that began smoldering for hours before eventually setting fire.
When using the product safely rags are supposed to be left in a metal bucket filled with water at the end of a project, fire officials said. It is believed the fire was completely accidental.
At the height of the fire's strength flames could be seen shooting through the structure’s roof and steeple, which was quickly destroyed. Surrounding streets, both 64th Street and Woodlawn Avenue, were temporarily shut down during the height of rush hour while the fire ripped through the interior, partially collapsing the roof.
The Woodlawn neighborhood church in the 6400 block of Woodlawn Avenue, formerly known as St. Gelasius, has been a Chicago staple for nearly a century.
Firefighters managed to rescue several artifacts from the bulding, including a baby Jesus statue that is more than 300 years old.
No injuries were reported, according to fire officials.