Investigation underway after fire chars historic Watts church for second time in 2 years

Los Angeles City firefighters look over the aftermath of a fire at St. Johns United Methodist Church
Los Angeles City firefighters look over the aftermath of a previous fire at St. Johns United Methodist Church in 2022.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

A fire has scorched a nearly 100-year-old church in Watts for the second time in less than two years, prompting an investigation into the cause of the blaze, authorities said.

The fire erupted in the sanctuary of St. John’s United Methodist Church around 6:50 p.m. and extended into the balcony, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Officials said it took 32 firefighters about 20 minutes to put out the flames in the two-story house of worship in the 1700 block of Santa Ana Boulevard. No injuries were reported.


Investigators are trying to determine how a fire started outside the St. John’s United Methodist Church in Watts, spreading inside to the sanctuary.

Feb. 6, 2022

An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the fire at the 2,000-square-foot church, said Brian Humphrey, a spokesperson for LAFD. Such an investigation is standard when a fire occurs at a house of worship, according to fire officials.

“It’s obviously a priority being a house of worship,” Humphrey said. “The only thing that takes greater priority are fatal fires.”

Saturday’s fire occurred as St. John’s was undergoing extensive renovations from another conflagration that damaged it about 16 months ago.

In February 2022, a fire broke out near the church and spread into the sanctuary. Photos taken in the aftermath show blackened walls and singed prayer books.

Worshipers moved services to the parking lot after the fire, where they were still being held as of this weekend.

The church, built in the Spanish Colonial style with a red-tile roof and beige exterior, is celebrating 97 years of ministry in the Watts community, according to its Facebook page.