SPENCER, MASS. (WHDH) - A fire ripped through a historic church in Spencer on Friday, toppling the structure’s steeple and drawing a massive emergency response. 

“For a lot of folks its a death in the family, for folks who have gone through life milestones here from baptisms to weddings to funerals, it’s devastating,” said Rev. Dr. Bruce MacLeod of the First Congregational Church of Spencer.

The Spencer Police Department shared multiple photos of the steeple showing heavy smoke around 3 p.m. before the blaze grew further.

Firefighters from surrounding communities ultimately joined the response, pouring water on the structure as smoke continued to rise over the area. After hours spent battling the flames, investigators on Friday evening said the fire may have been caused by lightning. 

Community members on scene said the historic church on Main Street is a fixture of the Spencer community, with one man telling 7NEWS his sister got married at the site.

“I’m just sad for the parishioners and the generations and generations of people who have put their heart and soul into this church,” said Danielle Debo after witnessing the fire.

“It’s sad,” said Robert St. Germain. “…It’s a part of the town. What can you do? We’re all sad. We’re all grieving about this.” 

Main Street was closed during the fire response, which immediately followed a batch of storms that swept through the region. 

While the cause of the fire remained under investigation Friday afternoon, firefighters said lighting was most likely to blame. 

“We had an eyewitness report of a lightning strike in the area, so we’re kind of assuming at this point that it’s probably what happened,” said Southbridge Fire Chief Paul Normandin. “At this point we’re still going to have the investigation going on.”

This was not the first fire to hit the church. Rather, in 1862, the congregation’s website said another fire destroyed the structure, which was later rebuilt. 

160 years later, some walls of the First Congregational United Church stood after Friday’s blaze. But the building still appeared to be a total loss as the sun set. 

Despite the destruction, amid the smoke and crews at work, there was a sign of hope for some in the form of a lone chimney with a beam across it, forming a cross. 

“That gives me hope that we’ll be back,” one woman said.

Firefighters put up a collapse zone around the church during their response and were waiting for an excavation team to arrive Friday night to pull down what was left of the building’s front walls, according to Normandin

“It is concerning,” Normandin told reporters. “That’s why we’re not in front of it.”

There were no injuries reported as a result of this fire. 


(Copyright (c) 2023 Sunbeam Television. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox