ADA — Smoke and flames were visible from miles away Tuesday afternoon as an Ada landmark burned to the ground.Fire consumed and destroyed First United Methodist Church, 301 N. Main St., just after noon Tuesday. Teachers and about 16 children from a head start day care center, operated by the Hancock Hardin Wyandot Putnam Community Action Commission, escaped without injury.From all angles, onlookers flocked to the scene, snapping photos and video on their cellphones and cameras as the fire raged. There were hugs and tears exchanged as residents and visitors alike watched events unfold.“Whether I was a member of the church or not, this is a very sad day for Ada. This is a landmark building, a beautiful old church,” said Michael Elliott, a church member who lives across the street. “They just don't build them like this anymore, they won't build them like this anymore. It's just so sad to have lost that. I really feel bad, I feel bad for this whole community.”LeAnn Pryer, 41, has lived in Ada her entire life. “I went from Lima Memorial Hospital to here to the church to be baptized,” she said. “It was my first public appearance.”She said the church was more than a place of worship, it was a community center. Scout meetings and overnights, pancake breakfasts and more were all held at the center. Elliott's house was one of a number of adjacent structures with damage from the heat and flames. Those repairs, however, weren't Elliott's focus Tuesday afternoon.“My house can easily be repaired and easily fixed but the church over here — I mean, it's gone,” he said. “It's gone. It's just tremendously sad.”A 911 call was placed reporting the blaze at the same time Ada Police Department Patrolman Matt Purdy noticed smoke coming from the roof of the church and told dispatch to get firefighters to the scene, Police Chief Michael Harnishfeger said.“It was a significant event even before we discovered it really. We called the Fire Department,” Harnishfeger said. “We've had three or four structures that have had some damage. We were dousing them with water, the Fire Department was.”Ada Firefighter Dave Zimmerly was one of the first on the scene. He said firefighters went up the stairs into the sanctuary area and were met with intense heat, forcing them to their knees. Black smoke prevented them from seeing much, and debris was falling from the ceiling. “At that point it was a safety issue. We knew it was in the sanctuary, but we couldn't get to it,” he said.Firefighters from Alger, McGuffey, Kenton and Dunkirk in Hardin County, Bluffton and Lafayette in Allen County along with Mount Cory and Jenera in Hancock County responded to assist the Ada Liberty Fire Department.Harnishfeger said the Division of State Fire Marshal was on scene to aid in the investigation into what caused the blaze. No cause had yet been determined late Tuesday, he said.He said investigators and insurance representatives will inspect the building today. A crane was on site in case the structure became unstable. Harnishfeger said the front wall of the church was the biggest concern. The church, a recognizable town icon, was first formed in 1852, according to information on the church website. The congregation moved into the current building on June 18, 1899.Church members, community members and well-wishers spent part of the evening at a prayer vigil downtown.“That was kind of a healing prayer service,” church trustee Bob McCurdy said. Church board members met at Ohio Northern University on Tuesday night to figure out the next steps for the 300-member congregation. The church will resume regular Sunday activities at ONU's English Chapel, including Sunday school, nursery and worship, all at the same hours, McCurdy said.He said the university and many other individuals and groups, like Habitat for Humanity and the Ada Ministerial Association, have reached out to help the church.“ONU made the offer almost instantly,” McCurdy said. “They're pretty amazing when it comes to community responsiveness. They've offered office space, they've offered technology.”McCurdy said nearly everything the church had was lost in the fire. “There were some church records retrieved, but very little,” he said. “We're all hoping that once we gain permission to go into the building, we may find something. Right now we're not expecting that. News of the church's destruction brought quick reaction from folks both near and far.“What a terrible tragedy,” wrote Tom Matteson, of Oxford, Mich., on LimaOhio.com. “This was a beautiful church!”Reporter J.D. Bruewer contributed to this story.