Fire Rages in Downtown Memphis

Image courtesy Karen Schaber - Memphis PD
Image courtesy Karen Schaber - Memphis PD
Image courtesy Karen Schaber - Memphis PD
Image courtesy Karen Schaber - Memphis PD

OCTOBER 6, 2006 - Posted at 7:35 a.m. CDT, updated at 8:56 a.m. CDT, updated at 11:17 a.m. CDT

MEMPHIS, TN - A fire that began about 3 a.m. in downtown Memphis has destroyed a historic church building and spread to two other buildings a couple of blocks away.

By dawn, the flames were nearly out at the First United Methodist Church, but the roof had caved in, the steeple had toppled and some of the walls had crumbled to the streets.

Witnesses say embers from the church fire drifted toward the other buildings, which went up in flames.

One of them is Lincoln American Tower, once the tallest building in Memphis at 22 stories.

Video on KAIT's Raycom sister station, WMC-TV, showed that building with flames from street to roof, although reporters said it may have been mostly the wooden framing around the windows on fire.

The Reverend Martha Wagley of the Methodist church said that building was a "seven day a week church" with a food pantry and other ministries to people downtown.  The building dates from 1893.  Wagley says no other building has ever stood at that corner other than the current structure and previous buildings that housed the church.

As church members hugged each other and cried on the sidewalk, Wagley said the building is lost, but not the church.

Meanwhile, the fire has caused the closing of several downtown streets and disrupted some government operations.  General Sessions and Circuit Court sessions for today are canceled.  Traffic has been blocked off to the north on Auction Street, to the east on Third Street, to the west on Front Street and to the south on Madison Avenue.

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen's news conference was moved from the Chamber of Commerce to the Peabody Hotel.

There have been no injuries reported as a result of the fire.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)