Fire destroys Bethlehem church

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Fire safety officers are today investigating the cause of a fire that gutted a Bethlehem church last night.

St Teresa's Church in Bethlehem was ablaze when fire fighters from Tauranga and Greerton brigades arrived at 10.45pm on Thursday.

St Teresa's Church on Bethlehem Road was gutted by fire overnight.

Fire destroyed everything inside the brick church next to Hangarau Marae.

'There wasn't really a lot we could do,” says Tauranga senior station officer Kevin Cowper.

'It was beyond saving.”

The concrete block building on Bethlehem Road next to Hangarau Marae remains standing but whatever was inside is totally destroyed, says Kevin.

'Our fire safety officer is going down there this morning to try and sift through whatever is remaining and determine a cause.”

Police are today at the scene where a cordon has been set up as the fire is being treated as suspicious.

A neighbour living opposite the church noticed the fire and urgently called firefighters at about 10.45pm.

'We were watching a movie and the lounge window faces the church,” says the woman.

'One of the family could see this flickering or light and we got up to have a look and was like ‘oh my gosh the church is on fire'.”

'Within seconds I was on the phone but by the time I finished five minutes later it was pretty well involved; fire was coming out the back window.”

She says firefighters remained at the scene until 1.30am.

She is devastated to see the church, believed to be more than 30-years-old, destroyed.

'I could feel the heat from the footpath in front of my house.

'There was a lot of history there and a lot of memories.”

At 2.40am Tauranga and Greerton fire fighters were called to a truck on fire near the Kaimai School on State Highway 29.

Tauranga and Mount Maunganui fire fighters were also called out at 5.20am to a shelterbelt fire on a Woods Road property at Oropi.

The 100 metre long shelterbelt was burning well when fire fighters arrived. The farmer assured fire fighters that he had not been burning rubbish.

'It was going pretty good when we got there,” says Kevin.

The cause of that fire remains unknown.


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