Searing flames ripped through the historic Eastwood Cemetery Chapel on Wednesday morning, reducing the ‘magnificent building’ to nothing more than a shell.
The building off Chewton Street, which withstood two World Wars, went up in flames just before at 2am and an investigation will be held into whether the blaze was an arson attack.
Eastwood crew manager Jonathon Booth said the building was ‘engulfed’ in flames when he arrived on the scene and firefighters were unable to save it.
“It was well alight when I got there,” he said. “The building was well engulfed from top to bottom so it must have been burning for a while. It was past the stage of being able to save it.”
Simon Taylor, who lives in Plumptre Way, Eastwood, noticed the flames out of his window and walked down to the cemetery.
He said: “I just couldn’t believe it. It was quite surreal really. I was thinking this is a bit of history happening right in front of me.
“The roof was about to cave in when I got there. It was practically a shell.
“It’s such a shame, it was a beautiful building. My kids’ great-grandad is buried at that cemetery, so we spend quite a lot of time there.”
Twenty-five firefighters from Eastwood, Stockhill, Ilkeston, Hucknall and Heanor took more five hours to battle the blaze, which completely gutted the building.
After the flames had been put out, just some walls and charred roof beams remained.
Firefighters left the scene at 7am, but went back at 9am with a sniffer dog to check for evidence of the source of the blaze.
The results at this stage are unknown and the fire is still being investigated by both the fire service and the police.
The chapel was privately owned and it is understood that a planning application had been submitted to build five houses on the land.
It was being used for storing ballot boxes, tables and chairs at the time of the blaze.
What is left of the building will more than likely be demolished for safety reasons.
Eastwood Town Council clerk Chris Thompson said: “It was an important part of Eastwood and stood out as a magnificent building. It’s a very sad loss.”
Witnesses should call the police on 101.