A massive fire destroyed the Christ Redeemed Missionary Baptist Church in East St. Louis on Saturday night.
Margaret Williams, who lives on Belleview Avenue, about a block south of the church — formerly St. Elizabeth Church — said she heard fire trucks arrive around 7 p.m., but when she looked out the window of her house, she didn’t see a fire. An hour later, she did.
Williams’ brother and nephew watched the fire grow. At first, they were standing right outside the church, at the corner of 25th and Ridge streets, but they had to fall back as it spread from the back of the church and into the steeple.
It looked at first as if the fire crews were going to “get it to settle down,” said Williams’ brother, Robert.
But at 9:05 p.m., with the steeple all but burned away, a center beam finally tipped over and fell onto the street. A flame shot out as it hit the pavement.
The massive building, engulfed by flames, poured hot, yellow ash into the air. It drifted several blocks south of the church, some landing on people’s homes.
The East St. Louis Fire Department received the call about the fire at 6:55 p.m., Fire Chief Jason Blackmon said. The first truck arrived at 7:03, and the second one arrived two minutes later.
Dozens of people turned out to watch the fire. Police were directing traffic away from the area.
One more truck from East St. Louis came to the scene, along with one truck from the Fairmont City Fire Department, one from Belleville Fire Department, and two from St. Louis, Blackmon said.
The fire started to die down around 9:15 p.m., as more fire crews arrived. One engine sprayed a “water curtain” onto the church’s west side to prevent the flames from spreading to a neighboring house where some nuns lived, Blackmon said.
Blackmon said he did not know what may have caused the fire and that he will be calling on the state fire marshal to investigate.
The Missionary Baptist Church was founded in 1978 by Rev. Dewitt Rhodes.
The congregation used to be a lot bigger, said Annie Rhodes, his wife, but now only about 25 attend Sunday services.
“It’s a big building that we love,” she said, adding that she’d like to see the church rebuilt.