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The Fire

In the early morning hours of November 1st, 2001 following a night of Halloween pranks and nuisance fires, the volunteer fire department of Lunenburg was called to extinguish a small fire at historic St. John's Church.

The department responded within minutes and promptly focused its attention on a small blaze that appeared to have its sources at the base of the southwest exterior tower.

"It didn't seem like much," says Reverend Irving Letto of St. John's who was on site from the time the fire department arrived, "it seemed to everyone that everything was under control. In fact, at one point, it looked like the fire fighters had succeeded in putting the fire out."

It was not to be.

The first sign of the true disaster that was to come was a subtle glow on the copper roof.

Fire Chief Terry Conrad, himself a member of the congregation of St. John's remembers, "The fire had climbed the hollow interior of the false tower where we couldn't fight it. When we looked the roof was glowing red – the fire was raging beneath the copper of the roof... where we couldn't get it out."

For the remainder of the night and the whole of the next day, more than one hundred and fifty fire firefighters would battle the blaze, some sobbing as they smashed stained glass windows in an effort to get water on the flames.

Water was pumped from the harbour. Ashes, water and soot ran in rivers through the streets of Lunenburg.

The whole town wept as the bell tower and chime of ten bells fell to the ground.

Bishop Fred Hiltz, a former rector of Lunenburg, gathered with the congregation and townspeople as they mourned the loss of the their beautiful church on that terrible morning

From the time the blaze was first reported and for months following, investigators worked steadfastly from three investigative fronts to determine the cause of the blaze.

RCMP investigators, provincial fire investigators and forensic insurance investigators applied all the resources at their disposal to bring some sense of closure to the case. The people of Lunenburg were to be denied resolution. None of the three investigative bodies were able to determine beyond doubt the true cause of the fire..

We may never know what set of circumstances led to this devastating loss.

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