Congregants of the Iglesia de Dios Luz y Vida Christian Pentecostal Church were finishing their worship service on the second floor of 602 Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. North when they heard frantic knocking on the entrance door.
“A lady had come up the stairs from outside and was shouting, ‘Come out, there’s a fire,’ ’’ recalled Jackeline Flores, the church’s Youth Department director and granddaughter of church pastor, the Rev. Eduardo Escobar.
“In the beginning, there was a little bit of panic,” Flores said, “but we managed to take control of the situation; my cousin and I took the children down and we got everyone out. We saw a few flames in the house next door where one of our members lives. She ran there to get her daughter and two dogs out of the building.”
Then, “a couple minutes later, was an explosion,” Flores said. That was when what fire officials have referred to as a “backdraft” – when oxygen is suddenly introduced to superheated fumes in a confined space – took place.
“We were the last ones out,” Flores said.
During the service, Flores said her mother, a church deacon, thought she smelled smoke in the building but, because they heard no alarm and figured someone might be cooking in the restaurant below, they did nothing about it – until the good Samaritan appeared.
Today, the church and the building that housed it are gone after Harrison called in an emergency contractor, TopNotch Demolition & Excavation, of Lyndhurst, to knock down the structure because of “unsafe conditions.”
Now the church, which has rented space in Harrison for the past five years, is starting from scratch.
“We lost $100,000 worth of computers, laptops, projectors, crayon books – all for our children’s program – plus Bibles, musical instruments,” Flores said. “Even our weekly collections and three boxes of clothing we had collected for homeless children in the Dominican Republic.”
Flores thanked the Harrison Mayor’s Office for helping the church find a temporary worship hall. So, for the next three Sundays (March 24 and 31 and April 7), congregants will gather at 10 a.m. in St. Anthony’s Church, 409 N. Second St., in nearby East Newark.
The church’s 120 members are mostly Peruvian working class immigrants, including “a lot of single mothers,” according to Flores.
Rev. Escobar, who came to the U.S. 18 years ago from Lima, Peru, where his daughter is also a Pentecostal pastor, said: “Even though we’ve lost everything, we believe in a God of power who will give us a special place to keep our congregation. The important thing is that everyone got out safely. I give thanks to God and I am thankful to all church members for their unity.”
Congregants are asked to check Facebook under the “Ministerio Luz y Vida” entry for reminders about donations for the Dominican children and updates about the church, Flores said. For more information, people can call the pastor at 551-580-0096 or Flores at 201- 772-7634.
The church’s neighbors at 604-606 Rodgers Blvd. North – three Peruvian-born brothers named Davila and their families – were also displaced by the fire. Lucia Davila, daughter of one of the brothers, said the six adults and six children, ages 7 to 17, and their six Yorkies are currently staying with relatives in Harrison and Kearny. “Everything got destroyed in the fire,” Lucia said. The families are seeking new apartments, she said.
– Ron Leir