Fire Destroys Historic Downtown Memphis Church, Damages Other Nearby Buildings

Memphis (AP) - Fires that broke out early this morning in Downtown Memphis have heavily damaged four buildings.

Firefighters first responded to a blaze at the historic First United Methodist Church at 2:30 a.m. Daylight showed the roof caved in, the steeple toppled and a smoking shell remaining. The Reverend Martha Wagley says no other building has ever stood at that corner, other than the current structure and previous buildings that housed the church.

The church has 270 members and Wagley says the congregation will worship Sunday in a Sunday school building they own.

A short time later, flames erupted a couple of blocks away at a building being renovated and spread to two other buildings, which were also part of the $45-million-dollar renovation project.

The embers from the church were seen blowing toward the other buildings, which later caught fire.

One of those is the 22-story Lincoln-American Tower, once the tallest building in the city.

The fire caused the closing of several downtown streets and disrupted some government operations. General Sessions and Circuit Court sessions for Friday are canceled.

Governor Bredesen's economic news conference was moved from the Chamber of Commerce to the Peabody Hotel.

There have been no injuries.

Memphis Fire Chief Alvin Benson says there is no suspicion of arson in fires.

Benson says an automatic fire alarm at First United Methodist Church alerted firefighters to the blaze.

About 150 firefighters responded to both locations.

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