UPDATE: Nat'l task force investigating fire at Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church in South Los Angeles (Photos)

 Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church fire

José Martinez/KPCC

The front of the Bethesda Temple Apostolic church in South Los Angeles after a fire damaged it early Friday morning.

LAFD on scene Bethesda Temple Apostolic

José Martinez/KPCC

Members of the Los Angeles Fire Department were on scene at Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church Friday morning to help church leaders salvage any records or documents that weren't damaged in the fire that gutted the building early Friday morning.

Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church fire

José Martinez/KPCC

The side of the Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church in South Los Angeles after a fire damaged it early Friday morning.

Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church fire

José Martinez/KPCC

A keyboard that was damaged during the fire at the Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church in South Los Angeles early Friday morning.


UPDATE 12:32 p.m.: Ash was still floating through the air near Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church late Friday morning as firemen escorted church leaders through the rubble, helping them salvage some of the records and documents that hadn't been destroyed in Friday morning's blaze.

Marilyn Alexander, the pastor's daughter-in-law, has been the church's choir director and worship leader for 16 years. She said she got a call around 2 a.m. Friday morning that the church was "engulfed" in flames. 

"I was told when we first got here that the flame was so intense [the firefighters] had to park across the street – they couldn't get their equipment to the fire because it was so hot," she said.

Alexander said she and the choir had practiced until about 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, and said that their choir robes had burned.

LAFD Battalion Chief Pete Benesch described the fire as "very intense." He said there was "significant damage to the building." There weren't any injuries he knew of.

"As you can see, there are plants and things that are across the street, and they were impacted by the fire," he said. "That's how much fire [there was]."

As a matter of protocol, he said, the House of Worship Arson Task Force is investigating. That group includes local, state and federal officials.

"The cause is under investigation," he said. "Our arson unit has taken a real hard look. They're continuing to do that, they'll be doing that for a couple days."

Alexander said there weren't any warning signs or threats that she knew of.

"Man, we're a very loving congregation," she said. "Not real big. We're probably about 200. And we fall out with each other but we don't burn each other's houses and churches down. Nothing like that. Nothing like that at all."

She also said worship at Bethesda Temple Apostolic would continue.

"The church is not the building, not the structure," she said. "One thing we do know is we love God, and his love is not predicated on whether we're in a building or not."

UPDATE 9:03 a.m.: A national task force that investigates arsons at worship facilities is investigating a blaze that has gutted a South Los Angeles church.

The fire occurred shortly before 2 a.m. Friday at the Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church. Eighty firefighters were able to knock down the blaze in about 50 minutes.

City Fire Department officials say the blaze appears suspicious and a dog trained to sniff for accelerants is helping in the investigation.

A task force including the FBI, Los Angeles police and fire, and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating the blaze. The unit was created in 1996 in response to a rash of arsons at African-American churches.

The church, located in South Los Angeles, opened in 1952.

PREVIOUSLY: Arson investigators were sifting through the rubble early Friday of a church in South Los Angeles that burned, according to NBC LA.

The House of Worship Arson Task Force, made up of local, state and federal authorities, was looking into what might have caused the fire that broke out at 2 a.m. at the Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church at 4939 Crenshaw Blvd., said Katherine Main of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

No injuries have been reported.

Marilyn Alexander, the choir director, said churchgoers had been practicing for Sunday service on Thursday night and were devastated.

Despite the loss, though, she remained upbeat.

“As a congregation we’ll go on,” she said.

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