Photos and drone video by Bill Harrington
Story by Terry Miller
The blaze that eviscerated the historic San Gabriel Mission early Saturday morning appears to have started in the church’s choir loft before shooting rapidly to the roof of the nearly 250-year-old historic mission.
The choir loft, a 250-square-foot area that also housed the pipe organ, is now the focal point for investigators who are considering arson as a possible cause, said Captain Antonio Negrete of the San Gabriel Fire Department, according to numerous reports.
The massive four-alarm fire destroyed a great deal of the San Gabriel Mission. When firefighters made a forced entry into the church in an attempt to put out the blaze, portions of the roof and ceiling began to fall, according to a fire department spokesperson.
About 80 firefighters from 12 area fire agencies fought the blaze for nearly three hours.
“During the initial stages of the fire attack, firefighters were able to remove historical artifacts and some artwork from the path of the blaze,” Fire Chief Steven Wallace told national news outlets. “Once the heavy fire in the roof was knocked down, firefighters re-entered the old church and made a valiant stand to cut off the horizontal spread of the fire near the altar area, sparing items that date back to the late 1700s.”
The community of San Gabriel appeared stunned Sunday morning. The fire provoked deep emotions and parishioners were seen holding rosary beads as tears rolled down the cheeks of some.
On Instagram, San Gabriel Mission thanked the community for the overwhelming support after this terrible fire:
“We are so grateful and moved by the tremendous show of support from our mission community during this tragic time. We thank the amazing efforts of our San Gabriel Fire Department and all the supporting cities that assisted in the fire. Their unwavering efforts to stop the fire saved our altar. Thank you to our mission family that came to cry and pray alongside us yesterday…you have given us renewed and rekindled strength to rebuild and come back to celebrate our restoration. If anyone would like to donate, please visit our website, www.sangabrielmission.org and give to the Fire Restoration Fund. Peace.”