(Photo by Christopher Shadrock)
BELTON (December 12, 2012)—A fire broke out during a Vigil Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe service at Belton's Christ the King Catholic Church that forced an immediate evacuation and left the church heavily damaged.
Parishioners were ushered from their pews just after midnight as smoke filled the sanctuary, but no one was reported injured.
Cynthia Diaz said the service had just started when the alarms began to sound.
“It’s really sad because when we were there we were barely starting to pray to the Virgin Mary since it was her birthday today and so we were about to start singing and praying and all of a sudden the fire started and it was really sad because we didn't even get to finish,” she said.
“There was smoke coming from above and below and so (the priest) opened the doors to see what was going on and everybody was pointing towards the door and so he opened it and all these flames just came out and all the smoke it just started filling all the church,” she said.
“He screamed fire and then we started running out the exits and then my mom went one way and my sisters went the other,” she said.
Firefighters were sent just after midnight Wednesday morning to the church at 210 East 24th Ave. where the first units reported smoke billowing from the building.
Belton’s fire chief asked for mutual aid from Morgan’s Point Fire Department to cover the remainder of the city because every available Belton firefighter was at the scene of the church fire.
One witness said there easily were more than 100 worshipers in the building when the fire started.
It took firefighters several hours to douse the blaze.
Officials had not issued a cause for the fire Wednesday morning, but one parishioner said a likely culprit was a candle.
The fire caused heavy damage, Belton Fire Chief Francisco Corona said Wednesday.
"I talked to the church people and they're going to work hard to...fix the church, but (it caused) severe damage to a big part of the church," he said.
"The people I talked to are glad nobody was hurt (and) they're already talking about rebuilding and fixing the building and fixing it better than it was," he said.
(Chinh Doan contributed to this story)