Fire destroys historic Victory Baptist Church in South L.A.

Arson investigators from the Los Angeles Fire Department are combing through the charred and smoldering remains of Victory Baptist Church on Sunday morning after the neighborhood landmark in South Los Angeles was destroyed by a fire.

The blaze broke out at 2:22 a.m. Sunday, according to Nicholas Prange, spokesperson with the fire department, and rapidly grew to major emergency status requiring response from at least 16 companies.

Two firefighters sustained injuries while fighting the blaze during a battle that lasted for two hours, said Prange. They were inside the church when one became trapped by a collapsing ceiling and walls. A mayday call was initiated, and the firefighter was rescued and taken to a hospital with moderate injuries. The other firefighter sought treatment for mild injuries after the incident concluded.

Victory Baptist Church, which could not be saved, has played a major role in the spiritual and political history of South Los Angeles.

Founded in a local storefront on Easter Sunday in 1943 by 14 members of the community, the church moved into its current building a year later. Its choir featured 75 members, and in the 1950s, its Sunday night services were broadcast on television nationally.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the church in 1964. Visiting singers included soprano Dorothy Maynor, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and singer and actress Ethel Waters.

The church is now the scene of an active arson investigation, which includes the House of Worship Task Force, a multi-agency effort that seeks to identify and capture individuals who target churches in Los Angeles.

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