St Colman’s Parish Church, Dunmurry, was extensively damaged in a fire in the early hours of Monday morning.
The rector, the Rev Adrian McLaughlin, was first on the scene having spotted the glow in the church from the rectory. He attempted to tackle the blaze but the fire quickly took hold and Adrian had to flee the building. He was later treated in hospital for the effects of smoke inhalation.
Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said the fire was being treated as accidental.
Seven fire appliances attended the scene and assistance was also provided by the Fire Emergency Support Service appliance. One firefighter was taken to hospital with non-serious injuries when he was hit by falling masonry.
Adrian said the fire had caused ‘significant damage.’
“I got up to let our cat in and spotted what I thought was a light in the church. I pulled my boots on and went over. The place was full of smoke, so I searched for the source, and got the hose while my wife Christine called the Fire Brigade.
“But it was like putting petrol on a bonfire. The place literally exploded in my face. The building dates to 1908 and everything in it was so dry. I had to run for my life. The roof just went up and the zinc pipes in the organ melted like chocolate in front of me.
“I have learned a valuable lesson, and it is a lesson for everyone. When you see a fire, you have to get out.”
The Fire Service was on the scene within 10 minutes. “They were superb,” Adrian said. It was the Fire Service and PSNI officers who insisted he be taken by ambulance to the Royal Victoria Hospital, where the injured Fire Fighter was also treated.
The Fire Service finished up at the church at 5.20am, and the extent of the damage was being assessed later on Monday morning.
Adrian said: “The stonework and the arches were burned, the organs have gone and we were gifted a chandelier before Christmas and it has been destroyed. The furniture in the choir stalls was destroyed, and the keyboards, the lectern, in fact everything is sodden and stained with tar and water.”
Adrian said that other local churches had been quick to offer their support and this was appreciated by the parish.
“I am very upset for the people of Dunmurry Parish, but we will get through this and it will pull us together as a congregation,” said Adrian.
He added: “It was a very, very frightening experience, and I hope and pray that through it other people will learn that if there is a fire, you have to get out.”