CANTON – Fire investigators are attempting to determine the cause of a blaze that severely damaged the steeple of St. Lawrence University’s Gunnison Memorial Chapel early this morning.
Pat Gagnon, St. Lawrence’s director of Safety and Security, said fire crews continued to monitor the steeple this morning, as smoke continued to appear. No injuries were reported, Gagnon said.
Fire crews from Canton, Potsdam and Gouverneur responded to the scene. Gagnon said those crews were called specifically due to the need for ladder trucks due to the steeple’s height.
Fire department personnel remained on the scene to assure that the fire stayed contained, to determine damage, and to begin investigation.
Roxanne Cliff, assistant director of Safety and Security, said she was making rounds a little after 5 a.m., when she and her associate noticed smoke coming from the steeple.
“We went in to investigate at 5:10 a.m. and noticed that the floor in the steeple was on fire,” she said. “That’s when I said ‘get out’ and we called the fire department.”
Gagnon said there had been concern about the bells in the Chapel’s steeple. The bells are held in place by a wooden beam, which he said had burned through. However, fire crews confirmed that the bells were safely resting on a concrete floor just below. Firefighters said the bells appeared to have escape any major damage.
The steeple is held up by a large wooden beam that holds part of the top portion of the spire. Gagnon said that beam appears to be intact. However, the integrity of the steeple is unknown, and it may need to be removed once it is safe to do so and until repairs can be made.
Several services were scheduled today in the Chapel, including a religious service, a regular Sunday service and a gospel service as part of St. Lawrence’s Family Weekend activities. All services scheduled in the Chapel have been canceled, said Joseph Tolliver, vice president and dean of student life.
A 5K run/walk that was scheduled for Sunday morning and had been scheduled to go down Romoda Drive, was being rerouted.
The Chapel was first opened in 1926. The bells range in diameter from 18 inches to four feet, the largest of which weighs a ton.