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Massive Fire Rips Through Historic Serbian Orthodox Cathedral

By  Trevor Kapp Kathleen Culliton Adam Nichols and Aidan Gardiner | May 1, 2016 8:21pm | Updated on May 2, 2016 7:54am

 Firefighters on Monday were still dousing the charred remains of the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral that was consumed by fire Sunday.
Firefighters on Monday were still dousing the charred remains of the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral that was consumed by fire Sunday.
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DNAinfo/Trevor Kapp

FLATIRON — A massive fire tore through an historic Flatiron church, ripping through the roof as more than 100 firefighters worked to bring it under control just hours after parishioners celebrated Orthodox Easter Sunday, the FDNY said.

The blaze started at 6:49 p.m. in the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava at 13 W. 25th St., between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, FDNY officials said.

"Fire was coming out every single window. The fire was going so hard. It was coming out horizontally like a blast furnace," said Jim Hunt, 55, who lives nearby.

"Smoke was rising from the top. It was billowing out. Four trucks were spraying hoses in all directions. It was unbelievable."

Firefighters were only able to tackle the blaze from outside of the 165-year-old church, which is both a registered national and city landmark, officials said.

Five firefighters and one civilian were treated for minor injuries at Bellevue Hospital, officials said.

About 138 firefighters brought the blaze under control by 8:30 p.m., but the church was severely damaged, officials said.

Crews were still on the scene Monday morning, spraying pockets of flames.

"We're certainly going to maintain a watch line for the next day, maybe two. We have deep-seated pockets of fire and we're not going to leave here until we're assured that this fire is out," said FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Michael Gala.

Fire marshals and the NYPD's arson and explosion investigators were still trying Monday morning to determine what sparked the blaze, but officials are calling it "suspicious."

"Any time we have a heavy volume of fire on arrival, we deem it suspicious. The marshals will do a cause in origin and they'll determine whether it's incendiary or not. But right now, we're certainly deeming it suspicious," Gala said.

The Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava, formerly known as the Trinity Church, was built in 1851 and designed by Richard Upjohn, according to its website. It was the site of writer Edith Wharton's wedding.

The church also features a bust of Serbian scientist and former New York City resident Nikola Tesla on a pedestal outside.

Earlier Sunday before the flames, hundreds gathered to bless colorful eggs and pray as part of annual Orthodox Easter celebrations.

Parishioners were heartbroken by the loss of a church pivotal to Serbian life in New York.

"We lost everything. We don't have any other church," said Zivko Velimirovic, 80, who traveled from Romania to visit his two daughters and worship at the cathedral Sunday before the fire.

"We have to cry. I feel very bad," Velimirovic added.