Four-Alarm Fire Destroys Most of Historic Mission San Gabriel Arcángel Church in Los Angeles

The interior of the San Gabriel Mission is damaged following a morning fire, Saturday, July 11, 2020, in San Gabriel, Calif. The fire destroyed the rooftop and most of the interior of the nearly 250-year-old California church. / Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP

A raging fire tore through the church at Mission San Gabriel Arcángel early Saturday, July 11, destroying almost all of the 245-year-old building that is an icon in the small Los Angeles County town.

The roof collapsed and the interior was gutted up to the altar, with mostly only the walls still standing at the fortress-style building, San Gabriel Fire Department Capt. Antonio Negrete said.

The rectory where priests stay and the museum, both in separate buildings from the church, did not catch fire, Negrete said. The mission bell also survived, as did historical relics that had been stored off-site during recent renovations, he said.

The mission holds great significance in the 4-square-mile city of 40,000 residents that was incorporated in 1913 south of Pasadena.

“The city of San Gabriel is a tight-knit community and this fire has affected a lot of people, not just parishioners,” said Negrete, who had his Confirmation ceremony at the church when he was 12. “It is our city identifier; it’s what we are known for. This is a big hit for us and it has a lot of people sad.”

Most Reverend Jose H. Gomez, the Archbishop of Los Angeles, was at the mission late Saturday morning.

“Our beloved #SanGabrielMission, founded in 1771, devastated by fire before dawn,” he tweeted. “St. Junípero Serra, pray for this land that you helped to found.”

“Makes me want to cry”

Handfuls of onlookers arrived in the late morning, surveying the damage. Some took photos and video, some sat down and appeared to pray and others stood in shock, staring at the church from afar.

While the damaged roof was visible, most did not see the destruction inside. Scorched pews were toppled by debris from the roof near scarred walls, in spots bearing the stonework beneath. Only the altar appeared to be nearly undamaged.

“It makes me want to cry,” said Theresa Barrera, 53. “It’s a part of my family and I feel like I’ve lost memories with it.”

Barrera, a Rosemead resident, said her older brother and a family friend had their weddings at the church. But she also noted the historical significance of the church. She, and many others have studied California missions in school.

She received a call from her sister saying the roof had burned.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Barrera said. “I was out and about thinking it was only the roof that was burned. I didn’t think it had gotten inside.”

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SOURCE: The Mercury News, Brian Rokos and Nathaniel Percy