Austin, Texas, Jul 30, 2019 / 16:30 pm
Federal agents have joined the investigation of a fire that ravaged and destroyed a 125 year-old landmark Catholic Church in central Texas on Monday.
Firefighters responded to the blaze at the historic Church of the Visitation in Westphalia, Texas on Monday morning.
While the tabernacle containing the Eucharist was saved by nearby residents, nearly everything else was destroyed, including a century-old organ and stained-glass windows imported from Germany, according to local news channel KWTX.
“(It’s) extremely difficult and painful to be here,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin, who visited the scene of the fire on Monday, told KWTX.
“I’m very deeply affected by this and I know the people here are also heartbroken,” he added.
On Tuesday, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) joined in the investigation of the cause of the fire, which is yet unknown.
Although ATF Certified Fire Investigators are called when arson is suspected, they can also be called to investigate large fires because they have access to sophisticated equipment not always available to local law enforcement agencies. ATF examines more than 2,000 fire scenes annually.
The parish had an active congregation of several hundred people, which had been planning a 125th anniversary celebration of the building before the fire struck.
According to reports, smoke from the fire that reduced the church to rubble could be seen from five miles away. Some sources told KWTX that the church, which was built in the shape of a Latin cross and had two large bell towers on either side of the entrance, was once the largest wooden building west of the Mississippi.