A historic church went up in flames in South Los Angeles Tuesday October 8 and two firefighters battling the blaze were temporarily trapped in the building and had to be rescued by their colleagues, with one hospitalized in stable condition. The fire at Crouch Memorial Church of God in Christ, completed in 1896 at 1001 E. 27th St., began in the attic about 9:30 a.m., and the flames quickly spread through the Romanesque Revival structure. Firefighters gained the upper hand on the flames within about 90 minutes, and remained on scene dousing hot spots. The fire was declared out at 1:15 p.m., according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The cause of the fire was under investigation. Pastor Lawrence McGee said he believed a wall heater he turned may have started the fire in the wood-framed church. He said he turned it on because rain is forecast overnight and a prayer meeting was scheduled Wednesday morning.
As the church burned, part of the roof of the building collapsed, and firefighters inside were ordered out. A headcount showed two firefighters were unaccounted for, but both men were soon rescued as firefighters poured on water from the perimeter. Los Angeles fire Capt. Jamie Moore said one of the two was taken to a hospital to be checked out. That firefighter was admitted for observation and was released the next day.
The other firefighter was not believed to be seriously hurt. A third firefighter was injured later from an electrical shock while using a fire hose on a ladder near some power lines, according to the LAFD. He was also taken to a hospital to be checked out. Fire Chief Brian Cummings said he came to the scene when he heard part of the roof caved in and two firefighters may have been hurt.
“I heard the partial structural collapse at the church and that we had firefighters unaccounted for,” Cummings said. “That’s the worst thing that you can ever hear as a firefighter or a fire chief — to know that some of our own are in peril. But (despite) the unknowns that are going on there, the one constant is that we know … the firefighters will do what they need to do to make sure that we can get in there to rescue those firefighters.
“… Our firefighters take that calculated risk because when there’s lives to be saved, we’ll risk what needs to be done to do it, whether it’s a resident of Los Angeles or one of our own,” the chief said.
LAFD Capt. Laurie Stolp told reporters what happened on the second floor inside the burning church.
“This one firefighter was about 25 feet behind the other two because he was pulling hose for them,” Stolp said. “And then all of a sudden they just heard a big loud (crash) and the roof caved in, and he ended up on the first floor just surrounded by debris.”
The church was once the center of Los Angeles’ prohibition movement in the early 1900s. It sits in the heart of a historic district that includes a variety of homes dating back as far as 1893. Cummings said nobody was believed to have been inside the building when the fire broke out. The department’s arson unit was called to the scene, along with the House of Worship Task Force, which includes investigators from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Crouch Memorial before the fire (Frank R. Denkins photo)