ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- Police are telling News 4 a fire that destroyed a St. Louis church was set intentionally and is now being investigated by city arson and bomb squads.
A four-alarm fire heavily damaged a northwest St. Louis church on Christmas Day, and fire officials said the 75-year-old structure appeared to be a total loss.
The fire broke out shortly before 1 p.m. Friday, about an hour after church members left following a 9 a.m. service at New Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church, St. Louis Fire Department Capt. Bob Keuss said.
Keuss said no one was inside when firefighters arrived on scene, though heavy smoke and intense heat prevented firefighters from entering the church in the 1200 block of North Euclid Avenue.
Firefighters battled the flames for over an hour before they were able to bring the fire under control. A one-story addition to the church suffered minor damage, officials said.
Hosea E. Gales, the church's pastor for the last 34 years, said church members smelled nothing out of the ordinary during Friday's service, which dealt with the "celebration and rebirth of Christ."
Gales said the church will rebuild, and New Year's Eve services will go on as scheduled.
"I realize that God permits a lot of things to happen that we don't understand. ... God will work it out for us," he said.
About 80 firefighters and 20 fire trucks responded to the call, Keuss said.