Fire rips through historic Trinity Lutheran Church in Milwaukee

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More - GALLERY: Fire burns through Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Milwaukee.

A four-alarm fire has destroyed much of an historic church in downtown Milwaukee.

The fire started at about 3:45 p.m. Tuesday at Trinity Lutheran Church on North 9th and West Highland Avenue. The fire continued through 6 p.m. on one floor of the building, though the majority of the fire was put out in the first hour of the fire.

Milwaukee Police say that there were no initial reports of any injuries.

"It hurts to see something this old, this iconic destroyed by fire," said Mayor Tom Barrett who came to the scene.

"You hate to see a building this impressive and this important to the history of the city with this extent of damage."

More from Mayor Barrett below:

Trinity Lutheran was named a historical landmark after the church's founding in 1847 by German immigrants, one year before the founding of Milwaukee as a city, and 1878 when the wood-framed building was constructed - 140 years ago. All of the interior woodwork was handcarved.

More - The history of the church from the congregation's site

"It's just sad. The more it burns, the more it hurts," said Elizabeth, who was baptized there in 1979.

"We were excited about the renovations. I haven't been there for quite a few years, but it was part of me."

The fire burned through the upper part of the roof and toward the main steeple. A witness said that the structure was going to cave in on itself internally due to the fire in the main part of the church.

The fire also burned through the top of the secondary steeple facing west and another spire toppled due to the fire. More than 20 fire trucks were called to the scene.

"I don't see how they can rebuild," said Jeff, who works at St. Ben's Church across the street. But as he and others expressed, they believe "the church is the people" and not just the structure they worship within.

There were three spires, the largest standing at 200 feet tall. The church inside was full of stained glass, sculptures and other works of art. The church also features a 30-foot high pipe organ.

The building was declared a historic Milwaukee landmark in 1967, a state landmark in 1979 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places, also in 1979. 

The head of the South Wisconsin District of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church sent this statement:

"We are deeply saddened by the fire that occurred at Historic Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Milwaukee this afternoon. At this time, we are unaware of any injuries and have no knowledge of how the fire started. The steeples at Trinity have been a part of the Milwaukee skyline for over 150 years. Our district mourns the loss of the building, but we give thanks for the gospel message that has been proclaimed there for generations. We give thanks for the brave men and women of the Milwaukee Police and Fire Departments who risked their safety in responding to the fire. We lift the congregation and pastors in our prayers." - Rev. Dr. John C. Wille

Streets in all four directions bordering the church (9th and 10th Streets, State and Highland Avenue) were closed due to firefighters attempting to gain controls of the fire. There were also major backups on the southbound lanes of I-43 and eastbound I-94. Click here for the latest traffic updates.

Deputy Milwaukee Fire Chief Christopher Snyder says the pastor at the church reported the fire. Authorities don't know what caused it, but Snyder says the fire apparently broke out on the roof, where construction work was going on.

The main fire station is only blocks away from the church, so firefighters were able to respond quickly. About 100 firefighters went to on the scene.

Check back for more details on this breaking story as they come in to us.

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