It once stood nearly 170 feet high over the St. Lawrence University campus, but now a section of the fire-ravaged steeple at Gunnison Chapel lies broken on the ground.

It collapsed in gusty winds before it could be removed.

The strong winds also prevented crews from removing the remainder of the tower to allow emergency repairs to begin.

"It appears the steeple went straight down and bent the weathervane," said Dan Seaman, SLU Chief Facilities Officer.

University officials say Sunday's fire in the steeple began with an electrical short in a conduit running along a section of the chapel's roof, which was also damaged.

Fans are being used to air out the chapel's sanctuary which received some smoke and water damage.

Fire officials say it could have been much worse.

"Had it extended into the main sanctuary of the church we would have been there for days," said Canton Fire Chief Bob Crowe.

University President Dr. William Fox promised the steeple, which has stood as a symbol over the university for nearly 90 years, would be rebuilt as quickly as possible.

"It represents a beacon of great promise and hope. It really is the candle in the wilderness that we embody," he said.

The 10 historic bronze bells, which are rung by students here in the bell tower every weekday at 5 p.m., escaped fire damage but will need to be inspected before put back into use.

SLU student Madeleine Young captured a photo (above) on her cell phone as the fire raged in the steeple.

"I was almost in amazement," she said.

As students, faculty and alumni filed by the cordoned-off chapel, many expressed sadness and concern over the loss of the iconic steeple.

As the extent of damage continues to be assessed, plans call for the temporary capping of the steeple and installing either a temporary or permanent roof on the tower.

See our earlier report