NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- A six-alarm fire that started in a vacant building in the East Village spread to a historic church nearby, severely damaging the church and injuring four firefighters Saturday morning.
Firefighters were still working to bring the fire under control around 10 a.m., five hours after it erupted on E. 7th Street.
“We are going to be operating here for a while. The fire is under investigation by our marshals,” FDNY Assistant Chief John Hodgens said Saturday morning.
The fire broke out shortly before 5 a.m. on the first floor of 47 E. 7th Street. It then spread to the 128-year-old Middle Collegiate Church on Second Avenue.
Photos and video show thick flames pouring out of the church and the vacant building as nearly 200 firefighters battled the inferno into the morning. Four of the firefighters suffered minor injuries.
“Our units arrived in three minutes, very fast response time. Upon arrival we had heavy fire showing from the corner building on East 7th Street,” Hodgens said. “We quickly transmitted additional alarms to get more help here. We knew this was going to be a big operation.”
Middle Collegiate Church was built in 1892 and has a 1,300-member congregation.
“We’re trying to save the steeple,” the Rev. Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft told WABC.
“God will be right here with us as we rebuild from this moment,” she said. “This is a horribly sad day for our congregation and for this neighborhood.”
The bell tower of the church houses New York’s Liberty Bell, which pealed to mark the birth of the nation in 1776 and has since been rung for the inaugurations and deaths of American presidents and events such as remembrance of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the church.
“We are devastated. We are gutted like our building is gutted; our hearts are crushed like our doors are crushed,” said the Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis. "But we know how to be the church, and we know that God is God, yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
The fate of the church building is unclear, Lewis said, but the ministry will continue.
“Our church has been worshipping digitally since March 15,” Lewis said. “And that's what we'll be doing tomorrow.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that the fire was “heartbreaking” and pledged: "We’ll do whatever we can to help Middle Collegiate rebuild."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.