100-year-old Echo Park church damaged in fire that may have been arson

A 100-year-old building in Echo Park that served as a home for mostly ethnic religious groups was nearly destroyed in an early-morning fire that was intentionally set, officials said.

Forerunners for Christ church had been hosting church services and religious groups at the building in the 1600 block of North Morton Avenue for seven years and had cemented itself as part of the community.

So it came as a shock to some early Monday that the church had been targeted.

“Why? Why?” asked senior pastor Linda Cruz. “We weren’t expecting anybody to do this intentional act.”

Officials said the fire was reported about 2:26 a.m. Flames first were seen on the church’s porch before sweeping into the attic, said Brian Humphrey, spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Firefighters were able to put out the blaze before it spread to the rest of building. No one was injured.

Investigators determined that the fire was intentional, Humphrey said.

Local, state and federal investigators with the National Church Arson Task Force, established in 1996, were called in to investigate the blaze. It is unclear if the fire was related to recent church fires across the South.

In Los Angeles, most church fires start by an unattended candle or during a burglary, Humphrey said.

Cruz has gone through every possible scenario for what could have led to Monday’s fire, but none seems to make any sense.

The church hosts two Latino groups, as well as 50 to 60 regular parishioners, who are mostly Filipino, Samoan and black, she said.

Parishioners, she said, are upset over the blaze. But she said the church will persevere.

Her message to the fire starter: “We forgive him for whatever reason he did it.”

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

5 p.m.: The story has been updated with the fire being intentionally set.

This story was originally published at 2:09 p.m.

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