-By Bay City News Service
A fire on Saturday destroyed the interior of the 144-year-old Good Shepherd Episcopal Church on Ninth Street in Berkeley, but the structure's 75-foot bell tower survived the blaze and services will continue in the parish hall, according to fire and church representatives.
Berkeley Fire Chief Debra Pryor said that the department received the call on the fire at 7:34 p.m. Saturday and finished up at the scene at 3 a.m. Sunday, but by then the flames had gutted the entire inside of the church.
"We were able to salvage the bell tower," Pryor said, adding that there was heavy exterior damage to the rear of the building.
Firefighters were not able to determine what ignited the fire, Pryor said.
"There was no obvious source of ignition nor obvious evidence of that it was malicious or intentional," she said.
The Good Shepherd stated on its website that the fire started within the sacristy, a room where clergy vestments and sacred objects are stored.
Despite the damage, "we will be holding services in the parish hall, and continuing all of our usual ministries," church officials said.
According to the city of Berkeley's landmark plaque at the church, the Good Shepherd is "the oldest church in the East Bay still in continuous use by its founding congregation."
The church's 75-foot bell tower, with a 1,000-pound bell, is its most prominent feature.
Built in 1878 based on Victorian Gothic architecture, the church, which has board-and-batten siding and pointed arch stained glass, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated a local landmark by the city of Berkeley.
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