Candle, electrical short eyed as possible church fire causes

St. George Greek Orthodox Church burned Sunday in a massive fire.

(WBIR-Knoxville) Investigators are looking at two possible causes for Sunday's fire that heavily damaged Saint George Greek Orthodox Church.

It's possible a candle could have started the blaze. Or, perhaps an electrical short up in the choir loft may have been to blame.

Three teams have been looking at the fire damage - from the Knoxville Fire Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and insurance investigators.

The church choir was completely destroyed in the fire. Flames obliterated the church organ, which was in the choir.

An electrical inspector was due at the church on Kingston Pike on Tuesday.

Church members told 10 news that several prayer candles are left constantly burning in the foyer area. A custodian, however, also kept an eye out to ensure no flames posed a threat to the church.

KFD spokesman Capt. D.J. Corcoran said the foyer area was also damaged by fire. That's another area investigators have studied.

Investigators say it could take a few days to determine the exact cause.

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Church members said there'd been talk of installing a smoke alarm system inside the church but the treasurer had advised it would be too expensive. That same treasurer is suspected of taking several hundred thousand dollars but he has not been charged with any crime, according to church leaders.

Until they can rebuild, members will hold services in its community building next door.

St. George's website says the church building was built in 1968.

KFD got a call about the fire about 7 a.m. Corcoran said when firefighters arrived, flames were shooting out of the sanctuary windows. No one was in the building at the time.

Many of the church parishioners were at the church late into Saturday night for the main Easter celebration and were planning to continue the festivities Sunday morning.

As of 8:30 a.m., KFD said the fire was under control.

A section of Kingston Pike in front of the church was shut down for hours while emergency vehicles continue to monitor the smoking building. It reopened about 3 p.m.

The fire gutted the interior.

Members spent much of Monday cleaning and salvaging what they could. A team from Ace Hardware also showed up to help.

"We'll pull through this, we are pretty close," said church member Pano Ioannides.

For 54 years, the church has played a special role in Ioannides' life and it brings special memories of his children.

"They were baptized here," said Ioannides, "And grew up in the church."

The news was a shock, but he is remaining positive.

"It's horrible, but we will fix it, we are optimistic," he said.

The sanctuary boasted stained glass windows and a piece of art brought from Italy.

"There's an iconography of Christ inside the dome, its mosaic, little pieces of glass put together by hand one at a time," described Panos Ionnides, "And there's damage there."

Smoke damaged the church altar, but firefighters managed to salvage several artifacts.

Father Anthony Stratis comforted his shaken members and is focused on staying strong.

"Whether its in Greece, Russia or here in the the United states the church has traditionally been the center point for the whole community, its home," said Stratis.

Damage is not a new site for Father Anthony, he served before as a priest in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. He has been with St. George's since 2011.

The church is well known in the area for its annual Greekfest celebration each fall.

"The Knoxville community has always been good to us," said Ioannides, "So they'll help us and we will be there for them when we do Greekfest, I think we will manage this September to have it again."


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