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Burned Westport Church Moves Ahead With Feast

WESTPORT, Conn. – The smell of smoke filled the air outside Westport's Saugatuck Congregational Church, and it was surrounded by yellow caution tape Monday. But from the front, the church didn't look heavily damaged by a fire Sunday night.

But the view was different in the back, where broken windows, charring and a partially collapsed roof could be seen.

"Portions of the church have had severe damage," congregant Michael Hendricks said as he and other churchgoers stood on the front lawn. "Doesn't appear the sanctuary has been damaged [by fire], but it's too early to tell the extent of smoke and water damage."

The fire broke out at about 9:55 p.m. Sunday in the rear of the church, affecting the choir loft, the Daniels Room, the fellowship Room and the Nursery School, said Mary Ann West, a spokeswoman for the church. The church's organ was also apparently destroyed in the fire, she said.

On Monday afternoon, state and Westport fire officials continued their investigation of the fire. No one, except emergency personnel, was allowed past the yellow tape. However, several congregants got a view of the rear damage from the Playhouse Square parking lot.

The fire came four days before the church's annual Thanksgiving Feast. And while the feast can't be held at the church now, West said it will take place at 1 p.m. at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church at 75 Church Lane.

However, she said "almost everything" used for the annual community feast, such as pots and cutlery, has been damaged. She said the church is seeking monetary donations to rent or buy those items. Anyone wishing to make a donation can send a check to the church at 245 Post Road East, with "Feast" listed in the memo, she said.

Although the sanctuary and the new education wing were not damaged, Deputy Westport Fire Chief Jon Gottfried estimates the church will be unusable for about eight months to a year. "That's my guess," he said.

West said there are no plans to cancel services. However, alternate locations for services and nursery school have yet to be selected. "We've had very generous community outreach," she said. "It's just been wonderful. People are volunteering sites and anything we need. It's really heartwarming."

A gathering will be held Monday night on the front lawn of the church. People are encouraged to bring flashlights, not candles, she said. Parking will be at the Playhouse Square shopping plaza.

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