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Fire ravages historic Duluth church; damage estimated at $900,000

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Crews in Duluth spent seven hours fighting a fire at a historic church in the city's Central Hillside neighborhood Thursday.

A statement from the fire department says they were summoned to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church by an automatic fire alarm at 5:30 a.m. and found heavy smoke coming off the roof. Crews that went inside found the floor weakening and the building was evacuated.

A call went out for more firefighters – there were eventually three dozen at the site – who used elevated streams of water from outside the church to contain the flames.

The News Tribune reports firefighters had to break the tall stained glass windows of the 1906 Gothic church.

As conditions improved, crews went back into the building and opened up ceiling areas to expose the flames, the fire department says.

Streets were closed and traffic diverted. No injuries were reported. The fire department estimated damage to the church at $900,000.

Gloria Dei says on its website that the Sanctuary appears to be a total loss and adds that the church is looking for an alternate space to hold services this weekend and beyond.

The News Tribune says the altar went up in flames, the color of which matched the sky during sunrise.

A Central Hillside institution

According to its website, Gloria Dei Lutheran was founded in 1870 as the First Swedish Lutheran Church of Duluth, before moving to its current, Gothic-style building in 1906 to which an education and office building was attached in the 1950s.

KARE 11 spoke with a woman whose family has been attending Gloria Dei for five generations.

The Central Hillside is among Duluth's oldest neighborhoods, overlooking downtown and Lake Superior. Gloria Dei is situated among three hospital campuses and says on its site:

"In the shadow of these hospitals, downtown Duluth has known homelessness, poverty, and crime, though there have been recent revitalization and beautification efforts. In previous decades, there were times when the congregation was asked to consider closing or relocating, but each time it affirmed that God had a mission for it in the Central Hillside neighborhood."

The State Fire Marshal's office is investigating the cause of Thursday's fire. Church members had been at Gloria Dei the previous night for a Lenten supper and evening prayer service.

Donations to the church can be made here.

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