- Associated Press - Saturday, March 28, 2020

BALTIMORE (AP) - Baltimore firefighters battled a four-alarm blaze that sent flames shooting through the steeple of a church that traces its origins back more than 150 years.

Photos of the fire posted by the Baltimore City Fire Department on Twitter showed orange flames coming from the top of the steeple of the Urban Bible Fellowship Church. Firefighters used ladder trucks to spray water at the blaze, but flames eventually caused the top of the steeple to tumble down. A school next door also was damaged.

The Fire Department said no injuries were reported. The fire took four hours to put out.

A church website described it as a nondenominational church started in 1991 that meets in the historic building that previously housed a Roman Catholic congregation.

Church pastor John Williams told The Baltimore Sun that the building was empty at the time.

“I just praise God that no one was hurt, no one was in there,” Williams said. “Normally, we meet on early Saturday mornings for men’s prayer, but due to the coronavirus, we didn’t meet today, so the building was empty.”

Williams said a church custodial worker who lives nearby believes lightning ignited the fire.

Fire Department spokeswoman Blair Adams told the newspaper that the cause is still under investigation and that lightning hasn’t been ruled out.

The church formerly known as St. James the Less Roman Catholic Church was dedicated in 1867 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, according to its application for the designation.

Archdiocese of Baltimore spokesman Sean Caine said in an email that the church had housed a parish until 1986 when the building was sold to a non-Catholic denomination.

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