Fire damages St. Demetrios Church in Merrick

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EMTs conducted elementary triage for firefighters dealing with heat exhaustion or smoke inhalation on the grass outside the church, helping them out of their gear, giving them water and Gatorade and checking them for symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

A crowd of several hundred people, including emergency personnel, church congregants and residents, gathered nearby. “This has been my second home since I was 12,” said Sophie Carlaftes, a Bellmore resident who stood beside her fellow churchgoers, gazing in shock. “My children were baptized here.”

Vasilios Zarboutis, a Merrick resident and an active member of St. Demetrios, said he was at home when he received a text message from a friend in the Merrick Fire Department. The friend wrote that he had heard a radio report of a fire at the church.

“I got in my car and drove over,” Zarboutis said. “There were three or four fire trucks there already, and they had broken open the front doors. They were up on the ladder and breaking in the windows. There was nothing you could do. You could only sit there and watch.”

The fire extended from the church’s front vestibule roughly 20 feet into the building’s interior, Luparello said. The building also sustained smoke and water damage.

The Rev. Nikiforos Fakinos said this week that church officials were assessing the damage. “It covers the front of the church, its vestibule, choir loft, artifacts, stained-glass windows, religious iconography,” Fakinos said. “Smoke damage covers every single item. And there’s a lot of emotional damage. A lot of parishioners saw their beloved house of worship go up in flames.”

Virtually every one of Merrick’s houses of worship offered St. Demetrios space in which to conduct services and activities while the church is under repair, Fakinos said. But his parishioners did not want to leave the church grounds.

“We made the decision to build a temporary sanctuary,” Fakinos said. “As long as weather permits, we will use it … I commend the religious leadership [of Merrick] for the tremendous response and their amazing sympathy and empathy in our time of need.”

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