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Fire Destroys Most of 249-Year-Old Church

'A little bit of a miracle' kept the flames from the altar
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 11, 2020 4:00 PM CDT

(Newser) – A fire early Saturday destroyed the rooftop and most of the interior of a California church that was undergoing renovation to mark its upcoming 250th anniversary celebration, the AP reports. Fire alarms at the San Gabriel Mission rang around 4am, and when firefighters responded to the historic structure they saw smoke rising from the wooden rooftop, San Gabriel Fire Capt. Paul Negrete said. He said firefighters entered the church and tried to beat back the flames, but they had to retreat when roofing and other structural materials began to fall, Negrete said. "We were trying to fight it from the inside, we weren't able to because it became unsafe," he said.

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After evacuating the church, the crew was joined by up to 50 firefighters who tried to douse water on the 50-foot-high structure from ladder trucks, he said. "The roof is completely gone," the captain said. "The fire traversed the wood rapidly, the interior is pretty much destroyed up into the altar area." The cause of the fire was under investigation, Negrete said. The interior wall was redone a week ago and crews had just finished installing the pews as part of a larger renovation of the property to mark the anniversary of the founding of the mission in 1771, said Terri Huerta, a spokeswoman for San Gabriel Mission. She said the firefighters' aggressive stance and "a little bit of a miracle" kept the flames from reaching the altar.

(Read more church stories.)

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