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Fire Damages Historic Yaphank Presbyterian Church
A faulty furnace pipe may have been the cause of a fire that
gutted a historic Yaphank church early Sunday morning, church
Yaphank Fire Department Chief Chris Austin said nine
departments, including some 75 firefighters responded to the
blaze about 2 a.m. at Yaphank Presbyterian Church, 65 Main St.
It took firefighters nearly 21/2 to get the fire under control
at the church built in 1851, Austin said.
"It's completely gutted in the back, the inside of the building
is completely burned," Austin said, adding that the church's
front steeple remained "intact" despite some fire damage.
Suffolk County's Arson Squad and the Brookhaven Town Fire
Marshall are investigating the cause, Austin said.
But fire investigators told church members that after a
preliminary review, the likely cause of the fire were old
furnace pipes that ignited, said Pastor Glorya Johnson. A hole
in the pipe allowed heat to escape, igniting the floor boards,
Suffolk police said in a news release that the cause of the fire
"I'm just thankful it wasn't arson," Johnson said. "It would be
very difficult to forgive someone for something like that."
Parishioners worshipped at a 9. m. church service in a building
behind the burned out shell, which has a gaping blackened hole
in the back. Charred, soggy pages of hymnals lay scattered
outside the church.
After the service, members lingered over coffee, remembering the
stained glass windows that generations of families had donated
in memory of loved ones, the organ that was right underneath the
center of the blaze and the piano that was tuned only a few days
Johnson said it is "a time of grieving . . . People are
Marjorie Nicodemus, 78 of Shirley, said she came to the church
this morning to put up the hymn numbers and practice the organ,
which she plays.
"I went into shock," said Nicodemus, who has worshipped there for
more than 40 years. "I got out of the car and started crying."
Just the night before, members of the church served coffee and
tea to Yaphank's annual Christmas parade, which went right by
the church. The church's float Saturday night was a four-foot
tall replica of the church. It got fourth place, out of 74
entries, said Stanley Patrick, 62 of Centereach.
"It's devastation," said his wife, Sandy Patrick, 62. "It's
Johnson said it was too early to know if the building could be
Ultimately, though, she said, "the building is just a symbol. The
community of faith is the church."
Sandy Patrick agreed, saying: "It's just a building. We're the
Kathy Tuthill, 59, of Selden, said her 5 year old granddaughter,
Crystal Montoya of Selden, was set to perform the Christmas
pageant on Dec. 21 in the church. Tuthill said she's thankful
there's a back building, where the pageant will go on, and
Crystal can sing her solo, "Joy to the World."
Johnson said graffiti was found on some of the walls of the
church about two days ago but is apparently unrelated to the
fire. Other buildings in Yaphank had similar graffiti, police