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Church that burned had no fire code violations, records show

October 09, 2013|By Ruben Vives and Robert J. Lopez

A historic South Los Angeles church where three firefighters were injured battling a large blaze has been regularly inspected in recent years and has no history of fire code violations, according to records reviewed Wednesday by The Times.

The two-alarm blaze broke out Tuesday morning at the Crouch Memorial Church of God in Christ at 1001 E. 27th Street in the Historic South Central neighborhood.

The three firefighters sustained injuries described as non-life-threatening as they fought flames that quickly engulfed the century-old church.

Los Angeles Fire Department records show that firefighters have conducted annual inspections, as required by fire codes, for more than a decade. The only exception was in 2009, when fire engines were being shut down on a rotating basis across the city, an LAFD spokesman said.

The inspection records show that the building has been in compliance with fire codes. Inspectors typically check fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and emergency exits, among other things.

Lawrence Magee, 66, who has been the church's pastor since 2011, said he may have accidentally sparked the blaze after he turned on a gas heater Tuesday morning. "I feel terrible," he told reporters outside the charred building.

Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said the blaze "appears to be accidental in nature." 

[Updated, 7:15 p.m., Oct. 9: Humphrey said his information came from the second in command at the LAFD arson unit.]

But Battalion Chief Armando Hogan said Wednesday afternoon that the cause had not been determined and that the incident was being investigated by a multi-agency task force that specializes in probing church fires.

Hogan said the House of Worship task force includes LAFD arson investigators, Los Angeles Police Department officers and agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Two of the injured firefighters were hurt when the roof collapsed as they tried to work their way into the attic. One of them was taken to a hospital, department officials said. The firefighter was later released from the hospital.

The third firefighter was on an aerial ladder spraying water when he felt like he had been shocked, Capt. Jaime Moore said. Neither the firefighter nor the ladder were in direct contact with a power line.

Hogan said Wednesday that the three firefighters were "resting comfortably."

Magee said reality was starting to set in for the estimated 50 members of the church.

“We found out today it wasn’t a dream,” Magee said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon.

The church was built in the late 1890s, records show. Magee said the church used to serve as the meeting place for women’s temperance groups during the Prohibition era.

Tully Gibson, 65, a resident of the historic neighborhood, said the church was an essential part of the block and was sad when he saw flames racing throught the wooden structure.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” he said.

Magee said Sunday’s services will be held at the Soul Enrichment Ministry in the Willowbrook area. He was hoping to organize a rally to raise money to rebuild the church, but had not set a date for the event.


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