OCEAN CITY, Md. - Authorities have confirmed two men have died after a fire Tuesday morning, at the rectory building of St. Paul's by the Sea Episcopal Church in Ocean City. One other victim, an adult female was transported to John's Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. All of their identities are not being released at this time, however, the identity of one of the deceased men has been confirmed by Atlantic General Hospital as Reverend David Dingwall.
Crews were called to 3rd Street and N. Baltimore Avenue for the two alarm blaze around 9:25 a.m. It was later upgraded to three alarm, but was controlled shortly after the arrival of responders from the Ocean City Fire Department and three surrounding fire departments.
The Ocean City Fire Department says its initial assessments show significant damage to the first and second floor office, along with smoke and overhaul damage to the first floor of the rectory building. The Worship Center and the Red Doors Community Center within St. Paul's By The Sea, reportedly seem to have no significant damage. The church is the third oldest building in Ocean City and the second oldest church in the beach town. It's been serving the community for over 100 years.
The rectory building is home to The Shepherd's Crook --St. Paul's free food pantry and clothing store for those in need. Kevin Ball, a parishioner at the church, was on his way to volunteer at the pantry when he saw it engulfed in flames.
"It was just complete astonishment to see the flames coming out of the windows. For something of this magnitude to happen, it hurts deeply. It's the holidays. People come to us for help and support, and a warm place and a hot cup of coffee and a good meal," he said.
As many speculate the cause of the fire, Ball says volunteers who were inside the church at the time of the incident witnessed a man who frequents the Shepherd's Crook walk into the building while lighting a cigarette.
"He came through the door, apparently caught on fire. We don't know exactly how. Screaming for help. And our volunteers that were inside tried to help him," Ball said.
"Today was a very tragic day for our community," said Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore. "We are thankful for the numerous agencies that assisted us during our response and especially thankful for all of the public safety personnel who helped prevent this fire from claiming more lives."
The Ocean City, Worcester County, and Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office along with the Ocean City Police Department's Criminal Investigation Division are still investigating the cause of the fire at this time.
Anyone with information regarding the fire is asked to contact the Ocean City Police Department at 410-723-6610. They are also looking for anyone with photos or videos taken before the arrival of the Fire Department.
St. Peter's Lutheran Church reached out to WMDT on Tuesday evening. It will be hosting a prayer service for St. Paul's by the Sea Episcopal Church on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. It is located at 10301 Coastal Highway in Ocean City, MD 21842. If you have any questions please contact 410-524-7474.
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