OCEAN CITY — A three-alarm fire at a landmark church rectory building is currently being investigated in Ocean City, while area residents mourn the loss of a pillar in their religious community.
Although authorities continue to probe the blaze and its cause, early indications are foul play was involved and that one of the individuals who died is responsible for the blaze.
Early Tuesday, Nov. 26 around 9:25 in the morning, Ocean City Communications was alerted to a fire at St. Paul’s by the Sea Episcopal Church, specifically its rectory located along Baltimore Ave. near 3rd Street. Flames were found emanating from the rectory building when crews arrived.
The fire was quickly brought under control, but one individual was immediately confirmed to be dead. The body was left inside the structure until the fire was extinguished, and paramedics tended to the two victims treated on the scene for life-threatening injuries, one of which was transported to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center where she remains as of this afternoon. Her identity has not been confirmed.
Sources confirm the other injured victim was the church’s pastor, Rev. David A. Dingwall, who has been with the church since 2005. He was hospitalized at Atlantic General Hospital and in stable condition as of 2:15 p.m., according to the Episcopal Diocese of Easton. However, earlier this evening, the Episcopal Diocese of Easton released a statement, saying, “It is with great sadness that we share with you that our brother in Christ, the Rev. David Dingwall, has died. Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him.”
Later, AGH confirmed his death, reporting in a statement, “On behalf of the family, we are authorized to release that Father David Dingwall died this evening with family at his bedside. The family thanks everyone for their prayers and continued respect for their privacy at this time.”
As to how the fire began, new information has shed some light on the situation. Multiple sources with knowledge of the fire have reported to The Dispatch that a man entered the rectory of the St. Paul’s By The Sea Episcopal Church this morning prior to the fire breaking out. Although the information is preliminary, reports are the individual was the source of the fire that damaged the rectory, located on Baltimore Avenue near 3rd Street.
The question is whether the local male, who died in the blaze, walked into the rectory already on fire or whether he set himself on fire once inside the building with the help of some sort of flammable liquid, such as lighter fluid or gasoline.
Once inside, the man reportedly had contact with a female, who was later seen exiting the rectory and was on fire. City Hall employees reportedly saw this woman and grief counseling has reportedly been offered to them, according to a city official.
Police are investigating the matter currently and interviewing people with knowledge of the situation.
The man in question is reportedly a frequent visitor to the Shepherd’s Crook, a food pantry and clothing store that operates out of the ground floor of the rectory and helps the needy and homeless. The fire originated in the Shepherd’s Crook, sources maintain.
An undisclosed amount of volunteers were reportedly preparing for today’s 10 a.m.-noon opening when the fire occurred. The “Crook”, as it is known, is located on the ground floor of the parish house, which suffered extensive damage throughout. The church itself was not damaged.
The Fire Marshal’s Office and the Ocean City Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division are currently investigating the cause of the fire, which is unknown at this time. Anyone with information regarding the fire is asked to contact the Ocean City Police Department at 410-723-6610.
“Today was a very tragic day for our community,” said Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore. “We are thankful for the numerous agencies that assisted us during our response and especially thankful for all of the public safety personnel who helped prevent this fire from claiming more lives.”
The community is still reeling from this tragedy today, and a prayer service is being planned for tomorrow, Wednesday, Nov. 27 at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 10301 Coast Hwy, Ocean City, to offer prayers of comfort, healing and support for the congregation, families, and victims of the tragic fire at St. Paul’s By The Sea Episcopal Church. Prayers will also be offered for the many volunteer fire fighters and others who responded to the crisis. The entire Ocean City community is invited to join in this offering of support for our sisters and brothers at St. Paul’s. Anyone with questions may call the church office at 410-524-7474.
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