Historic Downtown Church Gutted by Fire

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Firefighters continue to battle spot fires that are flaring up inside St. Raphael Cathedral in downtown Madison.

The fire is out but there is still some work to be done to save the steeple from collapsing. A new spire was just put on that steeple in November.

Cranes have been brought in by Findorff Construction to take the steeple off the bell tower. Even though the steeple is made of steel…
It was heavily damaged by the fire.

The fire started inside the sanctuary early Monday morning. Fire crews were alerted at 5:30 when someone saw flames coming through the roof.

The fire was so advanced that crews had to take defensive positions outside the Cathedral. The first concern was the brand new $1 million steeple.

"We do have a potential for collapse of the steeple," says Madison Fire Chief Debra Amesqua.

And that's just what happened. Later Monday morning, the roof of the 150 year old Cathedral fell in.

Nearby buildings were evacuated and roads were closed off in case the 180 foot tower came down. A four foot crack appeared in the new section of the tower and firefighters decided against sending in crews to attack it from the inside.

"We were concerned about the structural integrity," Amesqua says. "There are tension rings that hold that part of the steeple on, and those tension rings have no fire protection."

Findorff Construction put the new steeple in last year, and their engineers decided it needed to come down. Chief Amesqua says it won't be a quick procedure. "Once we get it stabilized it will take Findorff some time to get their equipment in here. They were saying somewhere in the neighborhood of a day or two in order to get everything settled."

St. Raphael's Cathedral was used as a soup kitchen and an overflow homeless shelter. But no one was inside at the time of the fire and no one was injured.

The Tommy Thompson State Office Building was closed Monday, but it will reopen Tuesday.

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