Firefighters were unable to save a Whittier church after an intense blaze ignited there early Thursday morning, officials said.
Flames on the second floor of the church at 6712 Washington Ave. set off a fire alarm at about 4:10 a.m., according to Inspector Sky Cornell with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
The building houses two separate Christian congregations, the Good Shepherd Bible Church and Cornerstone Celebration Center International.
Crews arrived at the scene about 10 minutes later and found black smoke coming from the structure's windows with flames visible inside.
Firefighters launched an offensive attack and searched for possible victims inside. Around 4:45 a.m., more crew members were called in, Cornell said.
By 5:05 a.m., flames were shooting through the roof of the two-story building, and firefighters went into defensive mode shortly thereafter.
Firefighters say it became too dangerous for them to save the church, and everyone was pulled out once the structure's integrity was compromised.
One firefighter suffered a minor injury and was taken to the hospital for evaluation, Cornell said. No details were available on the nature of the injury.
"I couldn't believe it when I heard it," church member Gabriele Huizar said.
Huizar said she'd called up people from her congregation Thursday morning to check on them, knowing that fires in Riverside County were affecting many. She says they told her, "We're fine, but our church burned down."
"I said, 'That's not possible. We just left there last night,'" Huizar told KTLA. "I just couldn't believe it."
She said she immediately went to the scene to see it.
"It's home to us for so long, and for so many people," Huizar said. "So it hurts."
After the flames were extinguished, several firefighters spent the day retrieving bibles and other valuables that survived from the rubble.
Good Shepherd Pastor Sam Gamboa told the Whittier Daily News that the 400-member church plans "on going on," but he wasn't sure whether it would remain in the same location.
Cornell said he spoke with one of the pastors, who was “visibly distraught.”
“This is their family, this is their home,” Cornell said. “As he called it, it’s their hospital; it’s a place people go for healing.”
The fire's cause is under investigation.
Parishioner Karime Bradvica said many are wondering what could have ignited it.
“The building was closed, nobody was inside, so no one was using the electricity or anything that could have overloaded circuits," she said. "But who knows.”