Tears fall over church destruction
By PHILIP KITCHIN and ALAN SAMSON
PARISHIONERS of the 100-year-old Catholic Sacred Heart Church in Hastings wept as they looked at its fire-gutted remains yesterday.
Parish priest Paul Duncan described his flock as “shattered and heartbroken and yet amazingly with an element of hope”.
Father Duncan woke just before 6am yesterday to ﬁnd the windows of his presbytery “crackling” and his church a “burning inferno”.
The fire was spreading quickly so Father Duncan and Father Bill Leeming roused their sleeping colleagues, Brother Pius and Father Maurice Scully, before running for help with towels clutched around their waists.
Father Duncan, whose room was closest to the church, described his early fears, especially for Father Scully, 78, and Father Leeming’s initial desperation when he had trouble finding a light switch or the key for the door.
‘It was dreadful . . . waking up to the crackling noise of glass breaking … just spread so quickly,” Father Duncan said.
Safely outside, he watched the presbytery windows break and the plastic on cars in the carpark buckle in the heat.
He was particularly concerned that the church spire might fall, but the fire service managed to ward off the flames
The fire, which police are treating as possible arson, ended a long night of drama for six young Hastings people who helped police nab a gang of window smashers before helping at the fire.
“It was a night I will never forget,” one of the six friends, Brendan Gray, said yesterday.
“When we pulled up outside the place it was a blazing inferno. The flames were shooting way up into the air and windows were blowing out all over the place,” he said.
The fire was the culmination of a night of high excitement for Mr Gray and his friends – Shane Gibson, Adam Blummont, Leigh Harris, Leone Pryce and Mel White – who had been at Cheers nightclub where Mr Gibson works as a disc Jockey.
After leaving the nightclub just before 4am, they had helped police catch some men who had been smashing windows. The group was just leaving the police station after giving statements when they saw flames coming from the church fire several blocks across town.
‘We took off in the car and as we pulled up outside the church you could see it was a blazing inferno,” Mr Gray said. “It had obviously started at the back and me and Shane ran down the side looking for hoses to douse the building at the side where the priest or whatever lives.”
Mr Gibson said the plastic inside cars owned by the priests was melting. “One old guy tried to move his car but the heat was just too much. All the indicators were melted down when we had a look later,” he said.
Firemen hosed water on the building used to house the Sacred Heart priests at the rear of the church, saving it from destruction.
A fire service spokesman said it took an hour to bring the fire under control using two appliances, five pumps, an aerial appliance and a command vehicle.
Fire service staff remained at the scene for nine hours and special equipment was brought in to deal with some of the remaining superstructure which was considered dangerous.
The parish of the church began in 1882, and the church’s foundation stone was laid in 1894, Father Duncan said. It was opened formally by Archbishop Francis Redwood in 1895. The church was the focal point of parish centenary celebrations in 1982.
Photo captions –
Parish priest Paul Duncan
Sacred Heart Church
Sacred Heart in Hastings ablaze early yesterday
Photo SHANE GIBSON