SALT LAKE CITY — A historic downtown church slated for demolition was heavily damaged by fire early Sunday, despite the best efforts of Salt Lake City firefighters.

About 5:30 a.m., police and fire crews arrived at 1990 South 500 East and found the Wells Ward meetinghouse fully engulfed in flames. Upon exiting their vehicles, firefighters heard screaming and "encountered two adults up on the balcony of the structure on the east side of it," said Salt Lake Fire Capt. Brandt Handcuff.

Firefighters were able to rescue the two young adults, who were treated for minor smoke inhalation and released at the scene.

The historic Wells Ward meetinghouse at 1990 South 500 East in Salt Lake City was destroyed by fire early Sunday. The Latter-day Saint church was not in use, and slated for demolition, but an investigation is underway to determine the cause of the fire. | Salt Lake City Police Department

Responding crews escalated the call, bringing in additional crews from the South Salt Lake Fire Department, South Metro Davis Fire and Unified Fire Authority. Four fire trucks, 12 fire engines and about 85 firefighters responded to the scene, Brandt said. The fire and response prompted road closures at 500 East from 2100 South to 1700 South.

By 5:40 a.m., part of the structure had collapsed and community members were urged to keep their doors and windows closed as the fire produced heavy smoke. By 7 a.m., the flames had been reduced to just pockets of fire within the building, according to Salt Lake police. Gold Cross and Rocky Mountain Power also responded to the scene, and fire crews continued working to protect nearby homes.

The property has been vacant for quite some time with trespassing on the property becoming an issue for Salt Lake police, according to Handcuff.

The nearly century-old Latter-Day Saint meetinghouse was badly damaged in the 2020 earthquake and has been set for demolition. The Liberty Wells Community Council had expressed hopes earlier this year that the property would be rezoned for single-family homes.

"It was uninhabitable after the earthquake so they were going to demolish it. It's been gated off for quite a while now," said Handcuff. "But it was slated for demolition actually within the coming weeks, so this will just speed up that process, as we're going to have to demolish it so that we can continue to get those hot spots out."

The cause of the fire is under investigation, with investigators asking anyone with information, video or pictures before the fire started to call non-emergency dispatchers at 801-799-3000.

Contributing: Brianna Chavez