DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO) – A nearly 120-year-old synagogue is in ruins Monday night after an early morning fire in Duluth.

The fire at Adas Israel began just before 2:30 a.m. Intense flames made it a challenge for firefighters.

“It’s shocking. That’s all I can say. It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Phillip Sher said.

(credit: CBS)

Sher is a member of Adas Israel, and he was one of the first to arrive on scene Monday morning. He watched as the fire turned a 119-year-old synagogue into rubble and ruin.

“It was just smoke, but the minute they opened it up it was engulfed in flames in 15-20 minutes,” Sher said.

Sher said his grandfather’s grandfather helped build the synagogue. Even as the roof collapsed, firefighters were able to save a number of religious relics, including eight Torah scrolls that are important to the congregation.

“Any time we see a building that is part of our landscape, it is certainly difficult for us to part with that today,” said Chief Mike Tusken, with Duluth Police.

Two investigators with the ATF arrived to help determine a cause. Early in the investigation, they say there are no signs accelerants were used.

“We will turn every stone in this investigation to figure out what happened, and certainly we are in the preliminary stages of the investigation,” Tusken said.

In the meantime, the Jewish Community Relations Council has created a relief fund to help with synagogue reconstruction, along with the replacement of Torah scrolls and prayer books.

“The one silver lining in this whole tragedy is I’ve been receiving phone calls from people in Twin Cities, people I know out east and many, many rabbis have reached out to say, ‘How can I help?'” said Rabbi Mendy Ross, with Chabad of Duluth.

A firefighter was injured on scene but was treated and released at a local hospital.

There are 60 members in the Adas Israel congregation. Other synagogues and churches in the Duluth area have offered the congregation a place to worship.

John Lauritsen

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