A fire at St Mark’s Church was successfully extinguished by four firecrews from the Yeltham Fire and Rescue Service earlier today.
Emergency services were contacted by a local milkman at 5:45am this morning after he witnessed the blaze on his morning round. The firecrews who arrived to battle the flames were forced to cut away parts of the roof before the fire could be put out.
The fire is believed to have originated from a campfire lit by a group of homeless people who had been using the disused church for shelter. The fire was left unattended and quickly spread until the flames had risen to pierce the roof of the building.
Station Officer Norman Hazell of Yeltham Fire and Rescue Service said, “Several homeless people had been using the church for shelter and had lit a fire. Our inquiries show that they left the fire unattended and it got out of control.”
“There is no evidence of any deliberate attempt to set the building on fire,” he added.
Several of the vagrants who remained in the vicinity of the church are being cared for by the Salvation Army. Nobody was seriously injured.
Major James Lees of the Yeltham Salvation Army said, “They are all desperately sorry about what happened and have assured me that there was no intention to cause any damage. They only wanted to keep warm and boil water for hot drinks.”
“It is a sad fact that there are a number of homeless people in the area. We do what we can to help, but many of them will find a roof wherever they can.”
The church has been largely unused since 2005. It is the subject of a £6 million redevelopment scheme, including the nearby primary school and the public space around it, which has been temporarily delayed due to a lack of funding.
Dr David Slator, president of Yeltham Civic Society, said the following:
“The firefighters showed great courage in tackling the blaze and they deserve every credit for saving part of the city’s architectural and religious heritage.”
He added, “The church is not especially old but it was built to a very elegant mid-Victorian design and has an interesting history.”
The accident is not considered significant in the redevelopment plans for the building, which are expected to proceed as normal.