A smoky blaze in a Near West Side Greek Orthodox church this afternoon has been extinguished and no injuries have been reported.
The fire at St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church, 733 S. Ashland Ave., began a little before 12:30 p.m. and spread black smoke through the neighborhood.
Chicago Fire Deputy District Chief Steve Chikerotis said the blaze is not suspicious and it originated around the base of the altar.
Firefighters aggressively attacked the small fire and were able to prevent it from getting into the structure and confine it to one corner, leaving a pile of rubble and ashes and the heavy stench of smoke.
Firefighters had to drill holes in the roof for ventilation, according to a paramedic on the scene.
It was extinguished in about 20 minutes, Chikerotis said. At 1:30 p.m. fire trucks and equipment were leaving the scene.
An elderly woman who was the lone parishioner inside the church yelled "fire'' and church staffers in a lower level heard her and called 911, Chikerotis said.
"I didn't see anything that couldn't be saved,'' Chikerotis said of damages to the interior, which included a portion of its stained glass windows.
Thirty-year parishioner George Lemperis was at work when the fire erupted but rushed over when he heard about it.
"My phone was ringing off the hook and they're telling me that my church is on fire,'' Lemperis said outside the church after the fire was out.
Lemperis said he was doubtful the church would be able to celebrate Easter services because of the blaze, but heaped praise on the
's Ashland Avenue bus was rerouted and streets in the area were closed off.
St. Basil originally was built in 1910 as Anshe Sholom Synagogue and became a Greek Orthodox church in 1927, according to the church's Web site. It served as the the first Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Chicago. The church was gutted by a 1977 fire but was renovated and reopened.