Fire Ravages 117-Year-Old Historic Church, 3 Firefighters Injured

A historic church went up in flames in South Los Angeles today; two firefighters had to be rescued when the second floor collapsed.

More than 150 firefighters responded to battle the blaze: two were temporarily trapped in the building and another suffered a shock from an electrical wire.

The Crouch Memorial Church of God in Christ at 1001 E. 27th St., an 1896 Romanesque Revival building, is in National Registry of Historic Places, according to NBC 4.

The fire started in the attic about 9:30 a.m., and the flames quickly spread through the wooden structure, City News Service reports.

Pastor Lawrence McGee said a wall heater may have started the fire. He turned on the heater, which hadn't been used since the spring, because rain is forecast overnight. He told NBC, "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."

Fire Chief Brian Cummings said he arrived on the scene just as the roof caved in and learned two firefighters may have been hurt.

"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," he told CNS. "But [despite] the unknowns that are going on there ... the firefighters will do what they need to do to make sure that we can get in there to rescue [their colleagues]. 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.

Of the two trapped firefighters, one was admitted to a hospital for observation and is expected to be released tomorrow, CNS reports. 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.

LAFD Capt. Laurie Stolp told reporters that the collapse happened on the church's second floor: "All of a sudden they just heard a big loud [crash] and the roof caved in, and [they] ended up on the first floor just surrounded by debris.''

By 1:15 pm, the Los Angeles Fire Department declared that the fire was out.

"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," Kevin Crouch, assistant administrator, told NBC.

The church was once the center of Los Angeles' prohibition movement in the early 1900s. It sits in the heart of the 27th Street Historic District that includes homes dating back as far as 1893 in Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Craftsman styles. In the 1920s, the neighborhood became predominantly African-American.

McGee told NBC he found a single historic photo in the wreckage. "The reality started 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," McGee said. "The fire was so big. It spread so fast."

Although the McGee believes the wall heater is to blame, LAFD'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, CNS reports.