Minneapolis Church Fire Investigated Ahead of Derek Chauvin Verdict

A Minneapolis church caught fire overnight in a blaze which destroyed much of the century-old building as protests continue downtown ahead of a jury verdict in Derek Chauvin's murder trial.

Firefighters were called to the 2200 block of Northeast 5th Street near Northeast 22nd Avenue just before 7 p.m. Monday to find thick smoke billowing through the windows and flames erupting from the church roof.

"Crews continuing to battle heavy fire throughout the structure, the roof and in the bell tower," the Minneapolis Fire Department tweeted about one hour after arriving on the scene.

Footage shared by local media and over social media showed the Sacred Heart of Jesus Polish National Catholic Church blanketed by smoke and heavy flames protruding up to the bell tower.

Members of national guard standing watch as dozens of firefighters battle the fire. pic.twitter.com/QGFwv1kyEa

— Ryan Raiche (@ryanraiche) April 20, 2021

Breaking: Firefighters are battling a large fire at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. pic.twitter.com/x9kuWwzu8y

— PM Breaking News (@PMBreakingNews) April 20, 2021

"Members of [the] national guard standing watch as dozens of firefighters battle the fire," KSTP-TV reporter Ryan Raiche tweeted alongside a photo from the scene.

"This is a 13 minute drive from that protest downtown. There is no indication this was intentionally set," Raiche added as speculation mounted online that the fire was connected to protesters in the Derek Chauvin case.

In another snap shared from the scene, a church priest was seen consoling congregation members.

"Chair of church just told me he thinks it may have started near furnace," Raiche wrote alongside the photo.

"Because of the construction of the church, the fire spread quickly into the attic area and it eventually burned through the roof, so unfortunately we weren't able to save this one," Minneapolis Fire Department Chief Bryan Tyner told CBS. "It's going to be a total loss, but we were able to avoid any loss of life or any injuries."

Priest consoling members of the church. AGAIN: There is no indication this has anything to do with the unrest. pic.twitter.com/8mac8Iu3LE

— Ryan Raiche (@ryanraiche) April 20, 2021

BREAKING: Large flames now coming through roof of Minneapolis church as firefighters, extended above the fire from ladder trucks, spray massive amounts of water on raging flames. pic.twitter.com/3Eck0EFcwP

— Preston Phillips (@PrestonTVNews) April 20, 2021

It took fire crews two hours to battle the bulk of the blaze. Much of the church sustained heavy fire damage and the roof collapsed. The cause of the fire is under investigation, according to the Fire Department. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also helping to determine the cause.

A GoFundMe page set up by Michael Kutek, the son of current church pastor Reverend John Kutek, said the church "unexpectedly started on fire" and "the fire quickly grew out of control."

"The fire spread to multiple parts of the church, parts of the roof have collapsed, and right now, it looks like most of the contents of the church will be unsalvageable," the page reads.

The fire broke out across town from the courthouse where Derek Chauvin's highly publicized trial was held. Protesters gathered for a rally outside the building on Monday evening.

Chauvin, 45, was charged with the murder and manslaughter of the Black man, George Floyd. A jury verdict is expected to be announced this week.

His trial began back in early March and is expected to draw to an end this week as closing arguments begin Monday.

Newsweek has contacted the Minneapolis Fire Department and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church for comment.

Minneapolis church fire
File photo: Fire fighters work to put out a fire at a factory near the Third Police Precinct on May 27, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Another blaze was seen billowing from a Minneapolis church which destroyed much of the century-old building on Monday night. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images