DENVER - Flames shattered a stained glass window and smoke heavily damaged the lower level of the historic, 107-year-old Church of the Ascension early Monday morning.
Investigators say the fire started outside the church in some bushes along 6th Avenue and quickly spread to the building itself.
A neighborhood resident on his way home from the grocery store saw flames “coming out of the building from the lower level.”
The neighbor, whose first name is Ben, told 7NEWS that he ran up to the burning building and began shouting to see if anyone was inside.
The church was empty.
Fr. Lucas Grubbs was asleep in the rectory just north of the church when he was awakened by the arriving firetrucks.
Grubbs told 7NEWS that over the last two months, several transients have been hanging out in the bushes.
He said he’s told them to move, several times. He even called police.
According to Grubbs, one of the transients didn’t want to leave.
“Around 3:30 to 4:00 p.m. (Sunday) I had to ask him to vacate the premises because of the nuisance to the neighbors, and the garbage that was accumulating around his living area.”
When asked if he thought there was a connection between that conversation and the fire, the Episcopal priest said, “I can’t definitively say.”
“That is part of the ongoing investigation,” said Mark Watkins of the Denver Fire Department. “Until we can actually determine the point of origin and the ignition source, it makes it a little tough.”
The fire shattered windows on the lower level of the church and destroyed a stained glass window on the main level.
Grubbs said the 7 stained glass windows on the south side of the church signify the 7 sacraments of the church: Holy Unction, Holy Penance, Holy Orders, Holy Matrimony, Holy Confirmation, Holy Communion and Holy Baptism.
The hot flames shattered the window signifying Holy Orders.
“Ultimately, it’s going to be a blip on the 100 plus year history of this parish,” Grubbs said. “In 1913, this church almost burned to the ground.”
Grubbs told 7NEWS that his is a hearty congregation that is talented and passionate.
“We’re going to get through this,” he said.
Grubbs said he hopes that quick repairs and clean up will allow him to celebrate Mass in the church this coming Sunday.
Neighbors said they’re grateful the fire wasn’t more destructive.
"The whole area is considered a historic district," neighbor Lisa Whittaker said. "It's sad but I think [fire crews] got it out pretty well."
Watkins said fire investigators will likely be back on the scene Tuesday.
When asked if the fire appeared to have been set intentionally, or accidentally, Watkins replied, “That’s going to be tough to determine. We have to make headway on the point of origin and ignition source before we can determine what caused this fire.”