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Historic scrolls safe in New Iberia Synagogue fire

Lightning strike likely cause
Posted at 6:22 PM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 19:23:56-04

The cleanup process is underway at a New Iberia synagogue after a fire Wednesday morning.

The cause is still under investigation, but it's believed lightning struck Temple Gates of Prayer.

The temple is on the national historic registry, dating back to 1903.

During the early morning storms, employees at a nearby business heard a loud noise. When they went to investigate, they saw smoke and flames billowing from the temple.

"Generation after generation of people have gone through this temple," said Larry Miller, the vice president of the temple. "Recently, we just redid all of the stained glass and everything on the temple. It's a beautiful facility."

Firefighters quickly responded. Chief Gordan Copell said their station is less than a mile away and the temple's damage is primarily in the attic.

"You'll see the burnt beams, the burnt marks on the ceiling. It was burnt pretty good. You can actually see a few spots where it was going to collapse, but we were able to work around that," Chief Copell said.

The 117-year-old building is fortunately not a total loss.

"It's a relatively old structure and that's probably to its advantage too because older structures are made out of solid materials, solid woods. There's not really a lot of plastics, so an older structure does have a little bit more durability," said Copell.

Once firefighters had the blaze under control, they went inside to save the scrolls which are hundreds of years old.

"Mayor Freddy Decourt was here," Miller said. "He was on site and ready to run in that building. His first thing was, did we get the scrolls. Did we get the scrolls? He knew it and he knows this building because he's a contractor and his family has done work here. He actually helped the fire department understand how the building was built so they could figure out where to fight and how to do it."

Firefighters saved the scrolls and made sure they were protected from the rain.

"Bringing it into the fire trucks for safety from the rain...where does that happen, but a small town, great place like New Iberia," Miller said.

Multiple faith denominations locally and across the state have reached out to the temple, offering support until their congregation can worship in their home again.

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