"It Spread So Fast": Pastor Was Inside Historic Church When Fire Erupted

Investigators do not believe the fire was intentionally set

By Samantha Tata and Patrick Healy
|  Wednesday, Oct 9, 2013  |  Updated 10:25 AM PDT
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The century-old church that was lost in a dangerous Tuesday morning fire in South Los Angeles was a community landmark. Patrick Healy reports from South Los Angeles for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2013.

Patrick Healy

The century-old church that was lost in a dangerous Tuesday morning fire in South Los Angeles was a community landmark. Patrick Healy reports from South Los Angeles for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2013.

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Historic Church Burns in South LA

A church listed on the National Registry of Historic Places burns in South LA. Patrick Healy reports for the NBC4 News at Noon on Tuesday Oct. 8, 2013.
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A months-dormant wall heater may have sparked an “extremely dangerous” fire at a historic church in South East Los Angeles Tuesday, according to fire investigators and the church’s pastor.

Pastor Lawrence Magee was preparing the Crouch Memorial Pentecostal Church of God In Christ (map) at 27th and Paloma streets Tuesday morning.

With a chill in the air and rain in the forecast, Magee said he wanted to test the all-wooden church’s wall heater to make sure it was working. It hadn’t been used since last spring.

PHOTOS: Crews Battle "Extremely Dangerous" Church Fire

Shortly after turning on the heater, Magee heard strange sounds and went outside to check.

“I didn’t see the flames right away but the smoke got bigger and bigger and I could see the flame finally, inside the vent,” Magee said.

Investigators said the cause of the fire has not been determined, but the pastor’s theory that it was sparked by a wall heater is possible. A multi-agency House of Worship Arson Task Force will be part of the investigation, a standard procedure involving church fires.

“Once I saw the extent of the fire, it was just devastating to me. I pretty much grew up in the church, my family is associated with it,” said Kevin Crouch, assistant administrator.

The 19th-century house of worship has about 50 congregation members. Magee found a single historic photo in the wreckage.

“The reality start to set in – this is where I worship, this is where I come every Sunday, this is where I preach. I’m starting to feel the impact of what’s happening here,” Magee said. “The fire was so big. It spread so fast.”

Flames ripped through the all-wooden church, its roof collapsing as firefighters battled the blaze that investigators believe started in the attic.

Two firefighters were trapped under burning debris on the church’s second floor, LAFD Capt. Jaime Moore said. One was taken to a hospital, and the other was treated on scene.

A third firefighter may have suffered electrical shock as he worked with a ladder pipe, Moore said.

More than 150 firefighters responded to the blaze, which blaze broke out in a densely populated neighborhood. Firefighters protected nearby homes from blowing embers.

The fire was extinguished after 3 hours 45 minutes, according to LAFD.

Donations are sought to help rebuild the century-old church. They can be made to the "Crouch Memorial Rebuilding Fund" created with Bank of America -- account No. 2158906449, routing No. 121000358.


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