City of Lincoln
Fire & Rescue Department
Zion Church Fire
Fire destroys church
By MARGARET REIST / Lincoln Journal Star
Saturday, Jun 09, 2007 - 11:59:06 pm CDT
An early Saturday morning blaze gutted Zion Church, a landmark at Ninth and D streets built 80 years ago by German Russian immigrants.
The huge brick building was little more than a shell once the flames subsided, and firefighters decided to stay there until at least this morning to make sure the ashes don’t reignite and that no one goes inside, said Chief Fire Inspector Bill Moody.
Only one lane of Ninth Street will remain open, possibly until Monday. Damage estimates are still very preliminary but will likely be well over $2 million, Moody said.
Fire inspectors won’t go inside until today, after some of the freestanding walls that are unsafe can be demolished, he said.
On Saturday morning, church members stood outside the shell of the once-imposing brick building, watching fire hoses pump hundreds of gallons of water through? windows once adorned with stained glass.
“There was a lot of love and bonding, commitment, that’s been in this building,” said Sara Mann. “God’s been at work.”
The church was built in the historic South Bottoms neighborhood? in 1927 by German Russian immigrants who lived in the neighborhood.
By the 1990s, it was the home of Zion Congregational Church, which at that time had an older and dwindling congregation.
Covenant Presbyterian Church, then at 40th Street and Sheridan Boulevard, was looking for more space, and the pastor at Ninth and D streets offered his building.
In 1997, the two congregations combined to create Zion Church (Presbyterian Church in America). The merger brought young families into the church, some of whom moved to the area.
“It brought a lot of people into the neighborhood,” said Zion children’s Pastor Keith Ghormley.
The church had planned to break ground this morning for a $1.1 million educational wing to go up on the west side of the building, where a small white house now sits.
But firefighters dispatched to Ninth and D about 5 a.m. saw flames shooting 5 to 20 feet out from the north basement windows of the church as they arrived.
When they went in to make sure no one was trapped, they were met with intense heat and black smoke, said Deputy Fire Chief Pat Borer.
The fire had broken through the floor of the first level as most of the 30 to 40 firefighters at the scene made their way through the heat and smoke.
Eventually, convinced the building was empty, they decided the fire had spread too far and went into a defensive mode to keep it contained to the building.
Three hours later, they had the blaze under control, but parts of the building continued to burn after 8 a.m., Borer said.
Inspectors don’t know yet how the fire started, but congregation members said the initial flames came from a kitchen area in the basement, right below a storage area.?
Ghormley said he and his wife attended a wedding at the church on Friday evening.
“I was at the wedding and I said to my wife how beautiful that sanctuary looked at that time of day,” said Ghormley.
Congregation member Rob Hotz said pictures of confirmation classes that once lined the church walls chronicled the history of the church.
The pictures are gone now, as are hymnals, prayers books and Sunday School materials, but luckily, Ghormley said, the church offices are in another building so records are safe.
Church members? will hold a service at St. Paul Methodist Church, 1144 M St., at noon Sunday, after the church’s regular services.
“We don’t know from there, but that takes care of tomorrow,” Ghormley said Saturday.
They’ll have to find a temporary place to worship, but eventually, it would be nice to rebuild on the same spot, he said.
“It’s really sad. That building’s been there for 80 years. It’s just been a landmark, It’s a neighborhood icon,” he said. “So we’ll have to find something (to replace it).”
But hours earlier, all congregation members could do was watch as firefighters snuffed out remaining flames in the old church.
Linda Siedell’s grandfather was pastor there for a year in 1957 and performed services in both German and English.
“I’m one of the originals that goes way back,” she said, standing on a corner across the street.
She ran through the halls of the church as a child, was confirmed there, then married there. She left for a few years, but recently returned with her husband, Barry.
“It was so neat to come back,” she said.
Now, she said, they’ll just have to look forward.
“We’ll just see what God’s plan is,” she said. “I’ll wait and see what amazing things we do.”