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Fire breaks out in closed Kensington church used as refuge by addicts, homeless

Joseph A. Gambardello, Staff Writer

Updated: Thursday, December 28, 2017, 9:35 AM

Philadelphia fire investigator walks across broken glass after a two-alarm fire overnight at the abandoned Ascension of Our Lord Church in Philadelphia on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017.

A two-alarm fire broke out early Thursday in an abandoned Roman Catholic church in Kensington that is used as a refuge by drug addicts and the homeless.

Josh Green has slept at the long-shuttered Ascension of Our Lord for three months. "I know it's probably not the right thing to do," the heroin addict says. "But I honestly feel a little more comfortable because I know I am in God's house." July 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Michael Zenquis, 37, looks out from the choir balcony inside the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia on July 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Josh Green (left) checks his heroin before injecting it in a room in the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia on July 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Josh Green injects himself with heroin in a room in the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia on July 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Anthony in the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia on July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Steven Sharp, once of Chester County, injects heroin in the old church, where day and night, people came and went. July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Getting high in a side room (from left): Matt, Anthony, Josh Green, and Steven Sharp, who says it would be disrespectful to use in the main church. July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Matt and Anthony, who didn't want to give their last names, hang out in a room inside the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia on July 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Sitting in a church room with the words "Forgive me, father, for my sins" on a wall. The church was deconsecrated in 2012, sold in 2014. July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
A needle in a pew at the former neighborhood jewel, deconsecrated in 2012 and recently home to those needing shelter and a fix. July 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Valerie, 26, who didn't want to give her last name, sits in a pew with her dog, Izzy, inside the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia on July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Valerie and Charlie try to create a space where they can sleep in inside the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia on July 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Valerie tries to clean up a place to sleep inside the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia on July 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Valerie and her dog, Izzy, prepare to leave the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia on July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photograher
A discarded needle rests next to a flag on the floor of the lower church of Ascension of Our Lord in Philadelphia. July 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Father William Murphy and Sister Ann Raymond talk with Josh Green at the church, once proudly nicknamed the Cathedral of Kensington. July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Three needles sit in what was a holy water basin inside the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia. July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Graffiti reads "Irish Pride" is seen inside the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia. July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Human excrement sits on the floor of what once was a confessional booth inside the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia. July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
A discarded note on the floor in the former upper church of Ascension of Our Lord in Philadelphia. July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Discarded needles sits in a pew in the former upper church of Ascension of Our Lord in Philadelphia. July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Charlie, who didn't give his last name, holds on to two wooden balusters as he struggles to stay awake inside the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia. July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Charlie, who said he was from California and didn't want the give his last name, walks through the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia on July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Josh Green walk through the former lower church of Ascension of Our Lord in Philadelphia on July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
A view of the homes along E. Westmoreland Street from a broken window inside the former Ascension of Our Lord church in Philadelphia, PA on July 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Ascension of Our Lord, where addicts pushed out from other encampments found shelter amid the detritus. July 5, 2017. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Photo Gallery: David Maialetti's photos from the former Ascension of Our Lord church

No serious injuries were reported in the blaze at the former Ascension of Our Lord Church, but firefighters had to contend with temperatures in the teens and ice that quickly formed as they battled the blaze.

Exterior of Ascension of Our Lord Church in Kensington section of Philadelphia after a recent fire on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017.

Officials said 19 people fled the church at 700 E. Cornwall St. after the fire broke out about 1 a.m.

Firefighters also briefly evacuated residents of some nearby homes because of concerns the flames could spread. The fire was declared under control an hour later.

There have been other fires inside the church, which officials have repeatedly attempted to seal.

The cause of the latest blaze is under investigation.

Joseph A. Gambardello, Staff Writer

Read full story: Fire breaks out in closed Kensington church used as refuge by addicts, homeless

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