A special prayer service will be held at 6 p.m. tonight at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church after an overnight fire caused more than $1 million in damage to buildings on the property, including the church. Tucson Fire officials blame the fire on an unattended candle.
Dozens of people have shown up at the church, in the 1100 block of East Fort Lowell Road, starting early this morning. They're cleaning out the Rose and Clarence Drake Youth Center, which will serve as the temporary church indefinitely. The second floor of the center has been turned into the church office.
“It’s just wonderful how our community, especially our youth, have come to help,” said Nora Retsinas, 84, a parishioner there since 1962.
“We will celebrate our 65th year in October,” she said as tears welled in her eyes.
A sign taped near the church entrance reads “Do not enter. Unsafe to occupy.”
St. Catherine’s Chapel, next to the church, was unharmed. Volunteers moved icons from the chapel into what will serve as the church and have been setting up the altar for tonight's prayer service.
St. Demetrios has about 400 parishioners and the temporary church will seat about 100.
“I am so sad. It is a small church but such a beautiful church. We had so many icons — our walls displayed several hundred,” Retsinas said.
A police officer checking on a private security company’s notice of an alarm being triggered on the church property just after midnight spotted heavy smoke coming from buildings on the property, said Capt. Barrett Baker, a Tucson Fire spokesman.
Several units arrived about five minutes later to find smoke coming from several different areas of the church. Despite the smoke and extreme heat firefighters were unable to find active flames.
A portion of the church was heavily damaged, but a search with thermal imaging cameras confirmed there were no longer flames spreading fire, Baker said.
A firefighter was taken to the hospital for possible dehydration, but no one was injured in the fire.
The church is the site of the annual Tucson Greek Festival.