A months-dormant wall heater may have sparked an "extremely dangerous" fire at a historic church in South East Los Angeles Tuesday, according to fire investigators and the church's pastor.
Pastor Lawrence Magee was preparing the Crouch Memorial Pentecostal Church of God In Christ (map) at 27th and Paloma streets Tuesday morning.
With a chill in the air and rain in the forecast, Magee said he wanted to test the all-wooden church's wall heater to make sure it was working. It hadn't been used since last spring.
Shortly after turning on the heater, Magee heard strange sounds and went outside to check.
"I didn't see the flames right away but the smoke got bigger and bigger and I could see the flame finally, inside the vent," Magee said.
Investigators said the cause of the fire has not been determined, but the pastor's theory that it was sparked by a wall heater is possible. A multi-agency House of Worship Arson Task Force will be part of the investigation, a standard procedure involving church fires.
"Once I saw the extent of the fire, it was just devastating to me. I pretty much grew up in the church, my family is associated with it," said Kevin Crouch, assistant administrator.
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Samantha Tata and Patrick Healy