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Investigators determine Crouch Memorial Church fire was accidental

Crouch Memorial Church of God in Christ (37376)
Crouch Memorial Church of God in Christ

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Los Angeles fire investigators confirmed Wednesday that the blaze that destroyed a historic church in South Los Angeles was accidental.

Pastor Lawrence McGee of Crouch Memorial Church of God in Christ said he turned on a wall heater Tuesday morning to make sure it was working, and smoke started coming out the vent. He said he called 911 at 9:28 a.m. and got out of the Romanesque Revival building at 1001 E. 27th St. in a historic district dotted by Victorian homes.

The fire, which apparently started near the heater vent in the attic of the two-story, wood-frame church completed in 1896, spread through the attic. When part of the roof collapsed, firefighters inside were ordered out. Shortly afterward, a headcount was done and a search was began for two missing firefighters.

As firefighters poured on water from ladder trucks surrounding the church, a firefighter who apparently was temporarily trapped under some debris inside was brought out on a gurney, taken to a hospital and held overnight for observation. His name, the nature of his injuries and his condition were not made public. Another firefighter also may have been hurt, but no information about him was made available.

A third firefighter, who was manning a hose atop a ladder, was apparently shocked when his stream hit electrical lines. He was not believed to be seriously hurt.

The fire raged on for hours, gutting the interior.

Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey confirmed the fire was accidental. The 19th century building was “a complete loss,” he said, adding that it was hard to put a dollar figure on a “treasured piece of Los Angeles.”

Some items were salvaged from the sanctuary, including part of a 53-year-old organ.

McGee said he expected the church to be rebuilt.

A total of 189 firefighters were assigned to the blaze.

The trapped firefighter used an oxygen bottle to breathe while calling for help, fire department spokesman Erik Scott said.

“I got fire all around me,” Scott said, quoting the unnamed firefighter. “I got fire all around me.”

The church was the center of Los Angeles’ prohibition movement in the early 1900s. It sits in the heart of a historic district that includes Queen Anne-style homes to 1893.

Because the fire was in church, the National Church Arson Task Force, formed in 1996 by the Justice Department, was asked to investigate.