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Retirement home for nuns destroyed by fire in Englewood Cliffs

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. — Nuns were evacuated by the busload from St. Michael’s Villa and an infirmary Wednesday as flames spread through their home, fire officials said.

The fire began outside Wednesday morning, about 7 a.m., but quickly spread into a structure that connects the infirmary to the nuns' quarters, according to the Englewood Cliffs fire chief.

Smoke shot up an elevator shaft, forcing the fire to rage all the way to the fourth floor.

Sister Francis Scanlon, 80, said that all those who could self-evacuate prayed as they went.

“Oh yeah, we were shooting them up," she said. "The prayers were flying!”

About a third of the nuns are too elderly to walk. The oldest is 97. Those who did get out on their own, left in their pajamas and robes.

“The smoke was beginning to pile up the stairs,” Scanlon said.

First responders safely evacuated the immobile nuns from the 5-story building.

“Every floor has sustained some damage,” Englewood Fire Chief Michael Cioffi said. “No one was seriously hurt. Just several officers suffered some smoke inhalation, and they’re on oxygen. They haven’t gone to the hospital.”

Nurses and a priest also made it out safely.

"They’re all so happy to be safe. The house can be repaired,” Scanlon said. “God bless you all."