Fire broke out at St. Demetrios Church in Merrick at 9:25 p.m. on Aug. 9. Several congregants of the Greek Orthodox church said that the building, at 2421 Hewlett Ave., had emptied an hour earlier, after an evening service, so no one from the church was hurt, but the blaze caused extensive damage.
Roughly 100 firefighters and EMTs from 10 fire departments responded to the scene. Firefighters charged inside the burning church with hoses and quickly extinguished the fire. One Merrick firefighter was later taken by ambulance to an area hospital, where he was treated for carbon monoxide poisoning and released the same night.
The fire’s cause was a candle inside the church, according to Nassau County police, who deemed the fire “not suspicious.”
Patty Lafkas, a St. Demetrios member, said that she and her husband were driving by the church and saw smoke spewing from the building. The couple called 911 and alerted the church’s custodian, who lives nearby.
Ron Luparello, a Merrick Fire Department spokesman, said the department received word of the fire at 9:30 p.m., had its first fire engine en route at 9:33 and arrived at the scene a minute later. “There were flames visible by the front doors,” Luparello recounted. “We stretched two lines. Firefighters made a very aggressive interior attack to contain and put out the fire.”
They also extended two ladders to the church’s roof, cut a hole in it and smashed windows to allow heat and smoke to escape from the building. Luparello said that the aggressive tactics were necessary because of the church’s size. “Once the fire gets past a certain area in a building that big, it could be off to the races,” he said. “You have to get it fast.”
The North Merrick, Bellmore, North Bellmore and Freeport fire departments, among others, provided backup. There were no fewer than six fire engines, six ambulances and six fire and police cars at the scene. Police reported that 20 emergency vehicles responded, blocking traffic on Hewlett Avenue, between Merrick Road and Kirkwood Avenue, for several hours.