Los Angeles Fire Department arson investigators comb through the charred and smoldering remains of Victory Baptist Church on Sunday morning after the landmark in the South Los Angeles neighborhood was destroyed by fire .
The fire broke out at 2:22 a.m. Sunday, according to Nicholas Prange, spokesman for the fire department, and quickly became a major state of emergency requiring the response of at least 16 companies.
Two firefighters were injured battling the blaze in a battle that lasted two hours, Prange said. They were inside the church when one of them got trapped by a collapsing ceiling and walls. A distress call was made and the firefighter was rescued and taken to hospital with moderate injuries. The other firefighter sought treatment for minor injuries after the incident was over.
Victory Baptist Church, which could not be saved, played a major role in the spiritual and political history of South Los Angeles.
Founded in a local storefront on Easter Sunday in 1943 by 14 community members, the church moved into its current building a year later. Its choir had 75 members, and by the 1950s its Sunday evening services were broadcast on national television.
The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the church in 1964. Guest singers included soprano Dorothy Maynor, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, and singer and actress Ethel Waters.
The church is now the scene of an active arson investigation, which includes the House of Worship Task Force, a multi-agency effort that seeks to identify and capture individuals who target churches in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Times