A five-alarm fire today destroyed the roof and much of the interior of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, an 85-year-old gray stone church whose history goes back to 1792 in this city's Fells Points section.
The midday blaze, which brought out 135 firefighters and 45 fire units, sent black smoke billowing over parts of the city and tied up traffic for hours near South Broadway and Bank Street, the location of the church.
One firefighter suffered minor injuries. Few, if any, parishioners were believed to be in the church when the fire broke out.
Baltimore Fire Department spokesman Capt. Pat Flynn estimated the damage at $1.5 million. He said the fire apparently started when a blowtorch used by restoration workers to remove paint from an outside wall ignited either the wooden upper wall or eaves.
Fire raced across the ceiling, destroying most of the upper structure of the building. Smoke and water from fire hoses did extensive damage to the lower interior, Flynn said.
He said that firefighters took extra steps to avoid breaking any of the hundreds of panes of stained glass in the old building, "and I don't think they lost more than one or two."
The church, the fifth in the nearly 200-year-old parish, was dedicated in 1898, according to records of the Baltimore Archdiocese. It currently serves about 650 families in and around Fells Point just east of Baltimore's commercial area near the city harbor.
An archdiocesan spokeswoman said efforts were being made to find space to hold mass near the damaged church, perhaps in the parish school or convent. She said plans also were under consideration for the Most Rev. William Donald Borders, archbishop of Baltimore, to say mass this Sunday at the parish "to help in the healing."