DETROIT (WWJ) – Detroit fire officials suspect arson was the cause of the fire that destroyed a historic Detroit church on Saturday.

The fire broke out around 6 a.m. at First Unitarian Church on Woodward Avenue at Edmund, just a few blocks north of the Fox Theater and Comerica Park.

Detroit Arson Investigations Captain Patrick McNulty said that since the building was fully engulfed, it’s suspicious.

“When you pull up to a huge building like that and the amount of fire that presented when the firefighters arrived, it could be safe to say that it was arson,” McNuilty told WWJ Newsradio 950’s Beth Fisher on Sunday.

McNulty said the building had been boarded up, but wasn’t secure. It’s unsafe right now to go inside the structure, because of all of the debris, to pinpoint a cause.

No injuries were reported; but, since the roof collapsed,  McNulty said, there is always concern that someone may have been inside.

He said they’ll work with a demolition crew to clear debris and then they may be able to tell what happened.

In the meantime, investigators will focus on witness interviews.

“There had been people reported in and out of the structure at night, maybe homeless people , looking for a place to lay their head , so we’re basically at this time just completing canvasses of the area and talking to other businesses in the area ,” he said, “trying to find video maybe of the area to determine exactly what was going on at the time the fire happened.”.

The church was built in 1889, but had been vacant for several years.  Known for its Romanesque architecture, the church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Saturday’s fire drew several spectators, including Lamar Torrence.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “It’s a landmark and a beautiful building; it wasn’t bothering anybody.”


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