By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
EDINA, Mo. -- Investigators from the state fire marshal's office are trying to determine the cause of a Thursday afternoon fire that damaged historic St. Joseph Catholic Church in Edina.
Three investigators were at the church until after 1 a.m. Friday, but "they still had not come to a conclusion," Edina Assistant Fire Chief Tom Morgret said. "We locked everything down, secured it. They're coming back this morning in daylight to see what they can see and make a judgment on it."
The fire was reported just after 2 p.m. Thursday by someone driving by who saw flames coming out of a window of the church at 509 N. Main.
"There was severe smoke coming out of the eaves all along the church on the south side and the steeple. Fire was coming out of the southwest corner of the church where the fire originated," Morgret said.
Fire burned through three layers of ceiling and a walkway that goes around the building's circular ceiling. A key help in fighting the blaze came from the Kirksville Fire Department, which brought its aerial ladder truck.
"We couldn't get up to the third level because of the smoke and heat," Morgret said.
By around 4 p.m., "we had it pretty well knocked down," Morgret said.
The extent of the damage to the church has not been determined, Morgret said, but a changing room for the priest in the sanctuary, where the fire originated, was heavily damaged, beams were charred, two stained glass windows will need to be replaced and the entire building suffered smoke and water damage.
"There was a lot of smoke -- smoke pouring out of the steeple, out of the windows," church secretary Marianne Berry said. "I have no idea what the damage is. They won't let us near the place. It looks like the back end is burnt pretty bad, but it's still standing."
Echo Menges with the Edina Sentinel said departments from Edina, Baring, LaBelle, Novelty, Knox City, Lewistown and Kirksville responded along, with the Knox County rescue squad.
Most firefighters had left the scene before dark, but a truck from the Edina department remained on scene until 12:30 a.m.
"We wanted to make sure we had things done last night before we left," Morgret said. "We didn't want to have to go back for some smolders."
No injuries were reported in fighting the fire.
Community members gathered to watch firefighters battle the blaze.
"They're just kind of watching in disbelief. The overall tone is very sad," Menges said. "I can't even speculate on how bad the damage is, but it's devastating."
The fire will be a major blow to the church, which serves0 about 200 families.
"We just finished having the whole thing restored, a major restoration. Every inch of it was repainted. All the pews were refinished. Everything was redone," Berry said.
The church traces its roots to the early days of Edina.
The first Mass was celebrated in June 1843, according to the church's website, and the first church was built in 1844 after the donation of land and material by Peter Early. A larger brick church was built in 1857, and the St. Joseph Academy, later known as St. Joseph School, opened in 1865.
"The building of the present church began in 1872. The plan was to build a church that would be large enough to accommodate the needs of the parish into the future," the website said. "The church, built under the direction of Louis Weishar, was dedicated by Bishop Ryan on Oct. 10, 1875."