Donelson Coptic Church destroyed under huge fire


UPDATE: 8:54 a.m.

Investigators are still working to determine the cause of the fire that destroyed St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Donelson on Sunday.

Nashville Fire spokeswoman Kim Lawson said the fire did not appear to be suspicious.

Reported earlier

Flames tore through a Donelson church Sunday, leaving a charred shell of a sanctuary in their wake.

By early evening, fire officials had deemed St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church, at 1943 Dabbs Ave. near Briley Parkway, a total loss.

Firefighters believe the three-alarm fire began in the church’s kitchen area shortly before 3 p.m. and spread to the roof, according to Nashville Fire Chief Walter Demonbreun. No one was injured, and nearby homes escaped damage.

The fire began about three hours after the church’s Sunday service had concluded. The blaze escalated as the afternoon wore on, Demonbreun said. About 50 firefighters responded to the scene Sunday to fight the blaze in shifts because of its intensity and Sunday’s high temperatures.

Firefighters kept people at a distance, but church members still flocked to the scene throughout the afternoon, looking on as firefighters poured water into the building. Some held crying babies or corralled children while others called friends and fellow congregants to make sure they had escaped the blaze. About 300 people attend the Donelson church, members say.

Amal Toma rushed to the scene after getting off work Sunday afternoon. She’s been a member of the congregation for 10 years.

“I wanted to come and see if anybody needed help,” she said. “This is my church and I want to see what happened. Everyone here is like family.”

Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the fire but it did not appear to be suspicious, according to Nashville Fire spokeswoman Kim Lawson.

“This is our church, and we always come here during the week and on Saturdays for choir and service on Sunday,” said Nirvana Mikhail, 14.

“I’m so used to coming here, and if we have to go to another church, I would just be sad.”

Contact Nancy DeVille at 615-259-8304 Contact Adam Tamburin at 615-726-5986 or