Sunday, May 17, 2009

Fire Guts Longfellow Park LDS Chapel In Cambridge, Massachusetts; 500 Worshippers Escape Unharmed, Fire May Have Originated In The Attic

Update June 19th 2011: Chapel re-dedicated, President Boyd K. Packer suffers fainting spell but is recovering. Updated post HERE.

Update February 18th 2011: Steeple re-attached to chapel, reconstruction proceeding apace. See updated post HERE.

Update May 18th: Fire investigators rule the fire accidental, but have not isolated the cause. Damage estimated at $1.9 million. Updated post HERE.

On May 17th, 2009, a fire began during morning services at an LDS chapel in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and quickly spread through the decades-old building. About 300 people were inside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Longfellow Park meeting house at the time for a regional stake conference, but officials say it appears everyone was able to make it outside safely. Primary media story from the Boston Globe; other media stories from WBZ Channel 38 with non-embeddable video, and from WCVB Channel 5 with non-embeddable extended raw video. Here's an embeddable video from

Here's a YouTube video which shows more dramatic (and depressing) footage:

Fire officials say the blaze, which began around 10:37 A.M. EDT on Sunday, started in the building's attic and quickly reached three alarms. Witnesses say attendance at the church was larger than usual because the parish was part of a national teleconference with LDS church leaders in Utah. The roof collapsed and the 60-year-old building was gutted, but the steeple still remains standing as of this post. According to Cambridge Fire Chief Gerald Reardon, the fire, which was fought with 22 engines, seven ladder companies, and about 80 firefighters from a wide variety of surrounding communities including Belmont, Somerville, Waltham, and Watertown, was brought under control sometime after noon. Reardon said the fire started in the attic, but he did not know the cause, although speculation is growing that an electrical short in the attic may have sparked a fire which smouldered unnoticed long before the alarms sounded. According to one story, it was only 20 minutes from the time the alarms first sounded until the roof collapsed.

Three congregations, or wards, have been displaced by the fire. The first ward consists of single undergraduates from area colleges, and the other two wards are made up of young adult singles, ages 25 to 30. LDS officials in the area have expressed the desire and intent to rebuild. Many of those commenting to the two blog sources cited below express the hope that the chapel will be rebuilt exactly the way it was; one commenter in particular expressed the hope that it would not be replaced by a typical "McChapel" (in reference to the standard design model generally used for all new LDS chapels).

Photos of the fire posted on the following sources:

-- A series of photos on
-- A series of nine photos by the Boston Globe
-- A series of 36 photos on an individual Picasaweb account.
-- A series of 200 photos in another Picasaweb account.

The Faith Promoting Rumor blog, which has also posted several pictures of the chapel, tells us that the chapel was constructed in the 1950s just outside of Harvard Square in one of the most beautiful parts of Cambridge, just across the street from the Longfellow House. Other unofficial LDS reaction has also been posted on By Common Consent and My Imaginary Blog.

There have been a disturbing number of church fires starting in attics, including the Brayton Drive LDS chapel fire in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2007 (it took nearly a year and a half to rebuild). This trend warrants increased recurring inspection of attics by local church officials.


Kia said...

over 200 pictures here:

Jack Mormon said...

Thanks for the link, Kia. I've now included it in the list of photo links on my post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I recently moved to Utah after living in the Boston area most of my life. I've been scanning the internet for all of the information I can find to keep abreast of the situation. Your post, including the NECN video, was meaningful to me.