An early moring fire yesterday destroyed St. Paul's United Methodist Church at 200 Redwood Ave., a landmark in Inwood for almost 100 years.
Fire Marshal Peter Rich said the blaze, fought by volunteers from four communities, was not deemed suspicious.
The Rev. Seung Woon Rhee, who discovered the fire, suffered the only serious injury, smoke inhallation, when he sought to remove church records from the smoldering parsonage.
The Pastor was asleep in the parsonage adjacent to the church. He awoke about 4:30 a.m. and thought he was having a nightmare. Everything was red. Suddenly, he said he saw flames shooting up between the parsonage and the church. He tried the telephone but the line was dead. He then ran shouting to the firehouse, two blocks away.
The Inwood volunteer department responded and immediately poured water on the quaint wooden structure, but the dry timbers went up in a blaze that could be seen for miles.
For 15 minutes the fire raged out of control and nine other homes on the block were threatened as sparks ignited shrubbery across the street. A bystander, Mrs. Virginia Hicks, describes what she calls "the miracle" that saved the homes:
"It (the fire) was raging out of control...when all the families on the block gathered together and said a prayer. But then, suddenly, the wind died down and things were under control."
One of the first men on the scene was Mrs. Hicks' husband, Kempton, who is a Nassau County marshal. The Hicks family has belonged to the 150-member congregation for years as have several other families in the area. According to Mrs. Hicks her grandfather was a minister there over 50 years ago.
The Nassau County Fire Marshall's office is still trying to pinpoint the cause of the blaze.
Neighboring fire departments from Woodmere, Cedarhurst and Lawrence helped the Inwood crew douse the inferno, which smoldered until late yesterday.
As one aftermath of the blaze the Inwood volunteers raised $20 to begin a campaign to rebuild the church. Joseph Lynch, a member of the department's board of directors and originator of the idea, said: "We thought just with our small pittance that we have here that we might get things started. The Church was a landmark for a long time and we hope other civic organizations and persons feel the way we do about it and will help rebuild it."
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