Reaction to West Norfolk church fire as important documents saved by firefighters
Fire crews will be on the scene for most of the day after "irreparable" damage was caused to a historic West Norfolk church following a fire this morning.
A resident reported the fire at Wimbotsham's St Mary's Church around 6am after becoming aware of the smell of smoke.
Important historic documents were preserved after 55 firefighters prevented the fire from spreading to other parts of the church. Church silver kept in a safe in the vestry is undamaged.
And the chancel has also been preserved, despite being smoke damaged.
However, archdeacon of the church Hugh McCurdy of the Diocese of Ely, said a holy altar table which dates back to 1638 was destroyed.
Mr McCurdy added: "The community will be devastated as churches are very important in the life of a village like this.
"You can read the history of the village in the church building and it's a centre for celebrating significant life moments. There are lots of strong members in the church building and they feel very connected even if they are not there Sunday by Sunday.
"It's a symbol of hope and a symbol in the Christian community that God is present."
The archdeacon said the church is now likely to share services with other churches in the area while the church is rebuilt.
"The congregation will survive, we just don't know the state of the building and how much will be rebuilt," Mr McCurdy continued.
"We will have to think really carefully when we see the investigation results.
"It's a very friendly congregation which feels like a family and the church has been a small, intimate place to worship God.
"The Bishop of Ely is very distressed to hear one of the churches is so badly damaged and his thoughts and prayers are with the community."
Mr McCurdy said one of his churches in March had been destroyed by fire in the past, and was rebuilt "better than before".
The Diocese of Ely posted on social media in response to the fire.
The post said: "Such sad news to see such devastating damage to St Mary's Church in Wimbotsham. Thank goodness no-one was harmed and our thanks for the superb efforts of the Norfolk fire service.
"Our prayers and thoughts are with those in the community at this sad time."
Terry Pinto, fire station manager at King's Lynn, told the Lynn News the service were called to a "very well-developed fire" around 6am.
A water carrier, aerial ladder and drone were all used by the fire service.
"We will be maintaining a presence here for most of the day and we will carry out a detailed fire investigation," Mr Pinto said.
"The crews here have had to work extremely hard to extinguish the fire after the majority of the church had irreparable damage."
Jane Neil, who has lived near the church on Church Road since 2005, said she could smell smoke and the road was "completely fogged out" around 5.50am.
After walking up the road to see it was a fire, Mrs Neil's husband called the fire service shortly before 6am.
Mrs Neil said her daughter had been married in the church, while her grandson was also christened in the building within the last year.
"It's going to be a big loss," Mrs Neil said. "You do not have to go every week to love the church.
"I 100 per cent believe there will be an emergency parish meeting tonight. My view from my window has now changed. If you go back far enough this house, Wimbotsham Manor, the church and chapel were the original buildings here.
"I went around the back to take some videos this morning and thought the tower would be ok."
Another resident, who did not wish to be named, described the church as "an icon".
She said: "You can see it from the A10 and I live at the bottom of Church Road where I see it every day. It is one of the reasons I originally moved here.
"The dog was going ballistic at 6am as you could smell it in the house. I shut all the windows and the fire service were on the scene.
"It's going to be something like Notre Dame, and will be expensive to fix."
A further resident who also did not wish to be named said he noticed smoke coming through his front window about 7am.
"About 15 minutes later I was walking down the garden as I thought it was the neighbour with a bonfire which had burnt out," he said.
"One builder pulled up this morning and he was saying he got married there [the church] and two of his brothers had also been married there.
"It is part of the village and life. The church has been there for a long time."
The church is believed to have been built in 1175, and it holds monthly family services of Holy Communion, every fourth Sunday of the month.