EDWARDSVILLE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The call for the fire at Saint Hedwig’s Church in Edwardsville came in around 6:30 a.m. this morning.
The church where generations worshipped is now in shambles. The sounds of church bells ringing in Edwardsville were instead replaced with a huge firefight Sunday morning at the former Saint Hedwig’s Church.
“I looked out my window and I saw flames shooting up into the sky, they were — oh my god. About 10 feet,” said Frances Geiger, a neighbor.
Many neighbors woke to see the massive building engulfed in flames.
“And I was like, ‘oh my god, there’s a fire right next to my house!’ and it was so scary,” described Karma Cowlay, another neighbor.
Neighbors reported seeing and smelling smoke as early as 5:30 a.m.
“I thought it was from my neighbors burning a little bit. I didn’t know that this was on fire and when I got back home, I saw like a plume of smoke but I didn’t know where it was coming from,” said Naomi Mutshui, a neighbor.
Fire crews initially tried to fight the flames inside the building, but according to Edwardsville Fire Chief Bill Court, they barely entered the building when they decided it was too dangerous and retreated to the outside.
An excavation crew took down one of the walls to make it easier for firefighters to douse the stubborn flames.
As the early morning call rang out and units quickly responded to the fire, there were many concerns beyond fighting the flames that broke out at this long-time-standing church.
One of those concerns? Spreading to the former St. Hedwig’s School Building which was not affected. In the meantime, neighboring business owners rushed to the scene not knowing what else might burn.
“I was concerned about the embers because we do have a flat roof and the building’s 40,000 square foot. Gladly, thank god everything’s fine, all the neighbors are fine around it. We’re very grateful that the fire department did a great job,” said Joe Maloney, from NAPW Supplies & Salvage.
Although St. Hedwig’s closed in 2007, it was a house of worship for many since it was founded in 1901.
“This was actually my church growing up. I was baptized here, first holy communion and so forth. It’s kind of sentimental seeing this happen to my church of so many years,” Chief Court told Eyewitness News.
A street corner once a sacred space is now just a memory.
“It’s sad to see a place of worship go down,” shared Mutshui.
“It’s a shame that god’s house has to go up in flames like that,” Geiger added.
Edwardsville Fire Chief Bill Court says the building had no gas or electricity. State police are investigating if the fire was accidental or intentional.
According to the Diocese of Scranton, Saint Hedwig’s closed for worship 16 years ago. The building was eventually sold to another entity. Below is a statement from the diocese:
The Diocese is truly grateful for the response of so many fire departments in the area and for the bravery of the firefighters and first responders at the scene. The fire has caused significant damage to the structure of the former church. The Diocese of Scranton extends its profound gratitude to all those who have offered prayers during this unfortunate event.Diocese of Scranton