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Southold fire chief: Blaze at historic church took just 15 minutes to destroy building

The First Universalist Church in Southold Sunday morning

The First Universalist Church in Southold Sunday morning on March 15, 2015, after a blaze that completely destroyed the church broke out around 11:30 p.m. Saturday night. Credit: James Carbone

A fierce nighttime blaze ripped through the First Universalist Church in Southold, destroying the unoccupied 19th century building despite the efforts of firefighters who battled for hours early Sunday to save it.

There were no injuries, police said.

Services Sunday at the Universalist and Unitarian church, located at 51900 Route 25, were rescheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Custer Institute, an astronomical observatory, in the town.

The Rev. Jeffrey Gamblee said in a telephone interview before services began Sunday that he was on his way to sift through the rubble. He said would try to retrieve items from his office before anything remaining of the structure was razed.

Southold Fire Chief Peggy Killian said the fire broke out at 11:35 p.m. Saturday and was "fully involved" when firefighters arrived.

"When I pulled up I could see the glow behind the . . . windows," Killian said.

She said it took only about 15 minutes for the fire to race from the east corner of the church and spread throughout the one-story wood-frame structure back to the kitchen area.

Officials declared the blaze under control about 4:30 a.m. Sunday.

Killian said the cause of the fire was still being investigated. Police said it was not believed to be suspicious.

"It was a beautiful old church," Killian said. "There's nothing left now."

Several fire departments assisted Southold firefighters in battling the blaze. Among them were units from Shelter Island, Orient, East Marion, Mattituck, Cutchogue and Greenport.

Gamblee said the church was established in 1837 but the building on Route 25 was constructed in 1860.

The pastor said the church has about 40 members and that there were no plans yet for where they will worship on a regular basis in the future.

"We will meet together and mourn," Gamblee said of the plans for Sunday. "We're going to speak about and grieve the hurt."

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