Historic West Oakland church “a total loss” in blaze
on September 23, 2013
Roughly 70 firefighters battled in vain to save a church housing a nearly century-old congregation in West Oakland late Monday after the Zion First Church of God in Christ erupted into flames.
“It’s pretty much a total structural loss at this point,” said Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief Lisa Baker. There was one minor firefighter injury and no civilian injuries reported by officials. No one was inside the church when the fire started.
The blaze started at 2:38 p.m. and first responders had it under control by 3:45 p.m., Baker said.
The church had long been a fixture in the West Oakland community and operated a food bank. Founded 97 years ago in 1917, the church had begun as a simple tent at the corner of 8th Street and Center Street.
Firefighters continued shoveling debris onto the sidewalk through the charred windows of the church into Monday evening. Maria Sabatini, the fire investigator, said it was still to early to draw any conclusions as to the fire’s cause.
“None of the witness statements seem to indicate the fire was intentionally set at this point,” Sabatini said. Investigations will continue into Tuesday and a report could be available as early as Tuesday evening or Wednesday.
Church fires can be particularly devastating because of the wide-open space of many worship areas, said Moses Ferrer, an engineer for the Oakland Fire Department who was on scene. When a building has a series of defined rooms, firefighters can shut off certain sections to help control the spread of a fire. However, in a big, open space, there is nothing to stop it.
The pastor of the church, Richard Williams, stood outside the building with friends and family as firefighters slowly left the scene.
“We know that, even though this is happening, this is going to be a great restoration,” said Pauline Williams, the pastor’s wife.
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