12 people displaced after fire burns church near downtown Phoenix

A dozen people are safe after a fire broke out early Tuesday morning at a church near downtown Phoenix.

The Phoenix Fire Department says the first-alarm fire broke out at Grace Pointe Church at about 4 a.m. on May 17, near 3rd Street and McDowell Road.

Capt. Todd Keller says firefighters arriving at the scene found heavy fire and smoke coming from the roof. 

"As firefighters were making an interior fire fight crews encountered a partial roof collapse," Capt. Keller said in a statement.

Because of this, crews switched to a defensive strategy to battle the flames. After less than an hour, firefighters gained control of the fire.

Twelve people inside the church were safely evacuated. One person was taken to a hospital for smoke inhalation.

No firefighters were injured.

The displaced residents are now facing some challenges as many of them are back to square one. They were temporarily staying at the church while working to get back on their feet after experiencing homelessness. All of their belongings are gone now, including items they received from the homeless shelter and all the clothes they own.

These people are visibly shaken after waking up in the middle of the night to flames.

"I was shaking to death because I didn't know what to turn to and all I heard was get out, get out.. fire, fire," said Ryan Newton.

Those who were displaced were given a $500 gift card after the incident, buying them a few nights at a hotel.

As for the church, it's a total loss.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

To donate to the recovery, visit this link: https://gofund.me/662dcc41

Residents were inside the church when the fire started

"I was sleeping on the stage of the church and all I heard was, ‘fire, fire, get out,’" said Heather Weise, who was inside the church when the fire broke out. "And I was outside and it was horrible. I just wanted to sleep, and I saw the flames, and it was, it was scary. I just… now our place is all gone, it's all gone."

The church runs a program where it takes people off the street to give them food and shelter.

"Now our place is all gone," Weise said. "It’s all gone."

Her friend Rudy was taken to the hospital and firefighters confirmed a partial roof collapse in the building, which leaves those who use the church for shelter now with nowhere to go.

Even those in the apartment building next door were affected.

"One of the guys who lives here, he came knocking on everyone’s doors telling us to get out," said Tianna Pico.

She grabbed her dogs and ran as quickly as she could.

"I got up right away and saw through my back window that it was just glowing red," Pico said.

One of the residents said her dogs started crying and that how she knew something was wrong.

Ryan Newton struggles to fight back his tears when talking about the fire.

"I was shaking to death because I didn’t know what to turn to and all I heard was ‘get out, get out, get out! Fire, fire, fire,’" he recalled.

All of their belongings are now gone.

"The stuff that were in there got burned. The stuff that we got from the homeless shelter. We got our stuff back, and they all just burned away. This is all the clothes that we got," Newton said.

Robert Redding says he's still in shock over what happened, but for now, is taking it day by day.

"Last night we got a hotel because Red Cross gave us each $500 gift cards, so we have that to last us until it runs out basically," he said.

From every tragedy, you can find a beautiful silver lining

Blake Merrell is a spiritual therapist at the church, and he says four walls are all that's left standing. What’s keeping him and the others going and pushing forward is their faith.

"From every tragedy, you can find a beautiful silver lining. Every time a door closes, a window opens, so we are over here looking for that window," Merrell said.

He hopes to find another location to serve those in need.

Image 1 of 6

A dozen people are safe after a fire broke out on May 17 at a church near downtown Phoenix. (Phoenix Fire Department)