New Plymouth police are investigating a suspicious fire that destroyed St Philomena's Catholic Church, on Brooklands Rd, which began at around 2.50pm yesterday.
A scene examination is currently underway and "is going to take most of the day" Detective Sergeant Gerard Bouterey said.
''The fire safety officer said there is no real reason the fire would have started on its own,'' Mr Bouterey said.
''It's going to be quite difficult to ascertain exactly what has happened.''
Father Craig Butler said the blaze had been a real shock to the wider Catholic community.
Messages of support had been received from as far away as the United Kingdom and India, he said.
''We are very grateful for the support of the wider community and just the expressions of concern.''
At around 4pm the news of the fire was spreading around the region and around the Catholic community.
An infonews.co.nz reporter Michael, was spending time with family members when a visitor arrived at the door.
"St Philomena's is on fire" the visitor said. Michael said the room filled with shock when it was confirmed.
"It is even worse because police are treating the fire as suspicious."
"We can all just hope that light is at the end of the tunnel" he ended.
A prayer service will be held at the church at 5.30pm today.
FIRE STATIONS ALL FIGHT AGAINST BLAZE
The blaze caused chaos at the New Plymouth Fire Station when multiple calls came in.
Numerous fire trucks from New Plymouth visited the scene, including fire trucks from Oakura, Waitara, New Plymouth West and Inglewood.
Okato's fire truck was backing New Plymouth's fire service alongside another New Plymouth truck.
A New Plymouth resident told infonews.co.nz she was out walking past the Fire Station heading to Pukekura Park when alarms sounded. "I was out walking past the New Plymouth station at around 2.45pm when loud alarms began sounding outside, I'd say nearly every firefighter was getting inside a truck. It was a full on emergency. I headed straight home to get the news of the church fire."
"You could tell by the look on the firefighter's faces that there was a big one near-by."
Meanwhile near Countdown Spotswood when news had came in of a fire on the other side of town people had no idea how big it was, until Okato's fire truck headed into New Plymouth.
"When we saw the Okato truck, a group outside of Counties and I were all thinking. It must be a biggy" a customer from the supermarket told us over Facebook.