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Historic San Gabriel Mission Heavily Damaged By Fire

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UPDATE: At 11 a.m., Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez will celebrate Sunday Mass at the historic 249-year-old Mission San Gabriel

ORIGINAL STORY: A four-alarm fire at the historic San Gabriel Mission demolished the 249-year-old structure’s wooden roof and much of its interior early Saturday.

A fire alarm at 4:25 a.m. sent firefighters to 428 S. Mission Road, where arriving firefighters reported a large column of smoke and fire coming from the corner of the roof.

The fire was knocked down at 6:48 a.m. and no injuries were reported.

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Fire investigators were at the scene and have yet to make entry because of concern over the church’s structural integrity. The church was undergoing renovation to mark its 250th anniversary celebration next year.

"The roof is completely gone," sad San Gabriel fire captain Paul Negrete. "The fire traversed the wood rapidly, the interior is pretty much destroyed up into the altar area."

The interior wall of the church was redone a week ago and crews had just finished installing the pews as part of a larger renovation of the property, said Terri Huerta, a spokeswoman for the mission.

The church had been preparing to reopen next weekend following a four-month closure to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The mission was founded by Franciscan priest Junipero Serra in 1771 in San Gabriel, a few miles southeast of Pasadena.

Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, tweeted:

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

After a statue of Serra was recently toppled near Plaza Olvera, the mission relocated its statue of the missionary. Father John Molyneux, pastor of Mission San Gabriel, issued this statement:

"In light of the toppling of statues of St. Junipero Serra by activists across California in recent days, Mission San Gabriel has decided to relocate the bronze statue of Fr. Serra, which has stood outside the Mission church entrance since the 1980s, to a more appropriate location, out of public view. This decision was made after consultation with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and local and Archdiocesan representatives of the Native American community. Whereas the California Catholic Conference of Bishops reminds us that the historical truth is that St. Serra repeatedly pressed the Spanish authorities for better treatment of the Native American community, we recognize and understand that for some he has become a symbol of the dehumanization of the Native American community. We at Mission San Gabriel are committed to continuing dialogue with our Native American representatives in order to achieve a peaceful and just partnership."

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Statues of Serra were also recently taken down by protesters in San Francisco and Sacramento. Negrete said the recent toppling of those monuments to Serra, the founder of the California mission system who has long been a symbol of oppression among Indigenous activists, will be a factor in the investigation.

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