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Fire Destroys Most of San Gabriel Mission Church

  • San Gabriel Fire Department firefighters clean up after extinguishing a four-alarm fire at the San Gabriel Mission, July 11, 2020. Photo by Helen Arase

  • San Gabriel Mission caught fire in the early hours of July 11, 2020. Photo by Helen Arase

  • The San Gabriel Mission fire required backup from surrounding cities. Photo by Helen Arase

  • The fire at the San Gabriel Mission burned through the church, but was extinguished at the altar. Photo by Helen Arase

  • San Gabriel Mission caught fire on July 11, 2020, destroying the interior of the church. Photo by Helen Arase

  • The pews of the San Gabriel Mission burned in a four-alarm fire on July 11, 2020. Photo by Helen Arase

  • The roof of the San Gabriel Mission is destroyed in the fire. Photo by Helen Arase

  • The bells of the mission are stained from the fire on July 11, 2020. Photo by Helen Arase

Location

Alhambra , CA

A four-alarm fire burned through the church of the San Gabriel Mission on Saturday morning.

“It basically ran the roof. It is completely made of wood; there is no sprinkler system because of the historical age,” San Gabriel Fire Department captain and public information officer Antonio Negrete told the Source.

“We were able to make a stop at the altar area, which is adjacent to their museum, so we were able to save a lot of historical artifacts.”

The department received the call from dispatch just before 4:30 a.m., triggered by the mission’s fire detection system. When firefighters arrived on scene there was a column of smoke and flames coming from the front of the mission.

Negrete said they launched an “aggressive” attack, accessing the interior of the church but after 15 minutes pieces of the roof and structure began to fall on the firefighters. The fire department then began a “defensive” strategy from the outside, “or what’s commonly known as surrender and drown,” Negrete said.

Negrete said the fire department did receive assistance from other agencies before the fire was extinguished around 6:50 a.m. with no injuries.

In a joint press release with the City of San Gabriel and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, SGFD said 28 fire units with 80 firefighters responded, from San Marino, Monterey Park, Alhambra, Arcadia, South Pasadena and Pasadena.

While the investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives is ongoing, the press release said at this time there is no immediate sign of arson.

Archbishop of Los Angeles José H. Gomez visited the mission Saturday morning.

Woke up before dawn this morning to news that our beloved San Gabriel Mission, founded by St. Junípero Serra in 1771,…

Posted by Archbishop José H. Gomez on Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Archdiocese of L.A. released its own press release that included a letter from Gomez to those of Catholic faith.

In the letter, Gomez says “the family of God was born in this region” with the founding of the mission, and these families went on to found Los Angeles.

The Mission San Gabriel Arcángel is the fourth of 21 California missions founded by Spanish missionaries to expand the Spanish Empire and convert Native Americans to Catholicism. The mission was founded by Franciscan Father Junipero Serra in 1771 and the structure of the church was completed in 1805.

The Archdiocese said historic paintings, the Stations of the Cross and other artifacts had been removed from the church before the fire, as the mission was undergoing renovations to celebrate 250 years in September 2021, and was planning to reopen for services on July 18.

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