Investigation into N. Philly church fire on hold amid safety concerns

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North Philadelphia Church fire investigation continues: John Rawlins reports on Action News at 6 p.m., March 30, 2018 (WPVI)

The search for the cause of a fire that tore through a church in North Philadelphia was in a holding pattern Friday as steps are taken to make sure the building is safe for investigators.

The blaze started before 2:30 p.m. Thursday inside The Original Apostolic Faith Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in the 1500 block of North Broad Street.
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Crews battle multi-alarm church fire in North Philadelphia. Christie Ileto reports during Action News at 6 p.m. on March 29, 2018.

On Friday a giant mechanical claw began pulling down the outer wall to the badly damaged rear portion of the church.

A decision was made earlier by authorities that this part of the sprawling building was too unstable for fire investigators to enter.

The strategy is to carefully pull the building apart to allow investigators to safely probe the scene and hopefully determine the origin and cause of the fire. But it will be a deliberate and likely slow, safe process, says the fire commissioner.

"This is not a television show," said Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel. "This is real life, real people are involved. It is not a one hour or one day or one week, or maybe even a one month episode. We have to do things to keep people safe."

Members of the church recorded the afternoon demolition on their phone, but declined to talk to reporters.
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Chopper 6 was over the scene of a multi alarm fire at a church on North Broad Street.

Earlier the son of the founding pastor did talk. Frederick Tookes showed us framed photos an investigator had recovered from inside the church. One of them was a photo of his late father.

As for where the small congregation will celebrate Easter, he indicated that has not been decided.

"What we're requesting is just a full investigation of what happened," said Tookes. "Of course this is not normal. We were here Tuesday night and everything was fine. So we want all of the cameras checked in the area to see if they can find anything."

"We just want to know what happened," Tookes continued.

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Three-alarm fire decimates North Philly church: Christie Ileto reports on Action News at 11 p.m., March 29, 2018

And according to the commissioner, determining what happened could take some time.

It's also unclear at this time if the building is insured. Everyone Action News spoke to who is affiliated with the church declined to comment or said they were not privy to that information.

At this point, Tookes said, no decision has been made as to where the congregation will celebrate Easter Sunday.

"We had pastors come by and offer," said Tookes. "But at this time we just want to get by this. We want to know what happened, what's going on. That's our main focus right now."

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