Published in the December 21, 2018 edition.

WAKEFIELD — The wait for the rubble from the First Baptist Church fire to be removed is almost over. The debris is now slated to be removed beginning on December 26 or 27. The entire process will reportedly take about four weeks.

The delay is related in part to the fact that it was determined that the church, and now the remaining debris, contained asbestos. According to Wakefield Emergency Management Director Thomas Walsh, whenever that happens, a plan for disposal of the remains of the building must be submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection for approval before anything can be removed.

That permit was expected to come through in early December, but according to a church spokesman the issuance of a permit was delayed because the DEP had been tied up dealing with the impact of the gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley. But the permit has now been issued and removal will begin right after Christmas.

According to Fire Chief Michael Sullivan, a crew from the Wakefield Fire Department will be on hand during the removal process to provide dust control by spraying down the site as needed.

A devastating seven-alarm fire caused by a lightning strike destroyed the nearly 150-year-old First Baptist Church on October 23.

The first responding firefighters got to the church that night shortly after 7. According to Fire Chief Michael Sullivan, they began hitting an area near the base of the steeple with water and were preparing to bring a hose inside the church when flames suddenly raced up the entire height of the 180-foot steeple. A second alarm was quickly sounded, and then a third.

Sullivan explained the day after the fire that once a steeple is involved, it is very difficult to control any church fire. Older churches tend to have multiple ceilings including decorative false ceilings with voids between the ceiling and the roof. Once flames get into that space, a fire can easily gain a lot of headway before firefighters can even see it or get at it.

“There was just no stopping (the fire) once it got into that concealed ceiling space,” the chief said.

Since the fire destroyed their house of worship, First Baptist Church parishioners have been meeting in space provided them by the First Parish Congregational Church.

The church was also home to the Tall Spire Nursery School, which has been meeting in various places around town since the fire. The Savings Bank has since offered the former Hartshorne Insurance Building on Chestnut Street to the Tall Spire, which is expected to move in after the new year.