reflections, updates and homilies from Deacon Mike Talbot inspired by the following words from my ordination: Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach...
Saturday, July 11, 2020
In California a devastating fire at one of the missions of St Junipero Serra
Fire destroys most of iconic Mission San Gabriel church
A four-alarm fire tore through the church at Mission San Gabriel 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.”
The mission was the fourth of the 21 California missions — each a day’s travel away — established by Franciscan friar Father Junipero Serra. Mission San Gabriel was founded in 1771 and relocated to its current site in 1775.
The first firefighters to arrive Saturday morning had to force their way inside, Negrete said. There was no obvious evidence immediately seen that the blaze had been set.
Mission officials had recently refurbished the church pews, Negrete said. The mission had been closed to visitors, and no services had been held since March because of the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
The legacy of Junipero Serra, who was canonized in 2015, has come under new scrutiny during the intense focus on social and racial justice following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes on Memorial Day.
Since then, protesters have demanded the removal of monuments to Serra and in some cases vandalized them.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. Officials were unable to enter the building after the flames were extinguished Saturday because of its instability.
Firefighters receive a report of a fire alarm sounding at the mission at 428 S. Mission Drive at 4:24 a.m. and encountered smoke and flames coming from the building. Firefighters aggressively attacked the fire from the inside. But because the roof was made of wood and the historical classification prevented the installation of sprinklers, the flames quickly spread, Negrete said.
The roof was destroyed within 15 minutes of firefighters’ arrival.
“They couldn’t get ahead of it,” Negrete said.
Firefighters left the building when pieces of the roof fell on them and fought the flames from the outside, Negrete said. No injuries were reported. About 50 firefighters fought the blaze, including from Monterey Park, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra and San Marino.
Junipero Serra Drive was closed, and Mission Road was closed between Ramona Street and Clary Avenue, on Saturday, the San Gabriel Police Department said. Negrete said the roads would likely remain closed well into the afternoon.
“It tugs at your heartstrings because of the age of the building and the significance to the Los Angeles area,” Negrete said.