San Gabriel Mission Fire | Investigation Continues Over Cause

Agencies investigating the fire, which occurred two weeks ago on Saturday, have yet to conclude how the blaze began

PHOTO: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP | The interior of the San Gabriel Mission after a devastating fire on Saturday, July 11

The Mission San Gabriel Arcangel suffered considerable structural damage during an early morning blaze two weeks ago on Saturday, July 10, as firefighters rushed to salvage the near 250 year-old historic monument and the many artifacts located within its doors.

South Pasadena Fire was among the first departments to respond to the scene, dispatching 2 units and five personnel, adding to the total of over 80 members and 30 pieces of apparatus from Arcadia, Alhambra, Monrovia, Monterey Park, and San Marino, which included 15 engines, 5 ladder trucks, 6 battalion chiefs, 3 rescue ambulances and 1 air utility combining efforts to extinguish the inferno that lasted for over two hours.

According to the City of San Gabriel, custody of the structure “was was returned from the investigators to the Mission San Gabriel on the evening of Tuesday, July 21.” This comes after many in the community expressed both grief over the near-loss of a Southern California icon, and support by donating to funds towards the building’s repair.

The four alarm fire’s cause remains unknown as investigators, which include several agencies consisting of the Verdugo Arson Task Force, the Los Angeles Fire Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, continue to formulate an analysis after inspecting the church and specifically what was considered to be the origin of the fire in the choir loft.

Taking four days for structural specialists and engineers to successfully “stabilize loose debris” — presumably from the building’s roof, which sustained the brunt of the fire’s damage — for safer conditions, thorough investigation was only able to commence on July 15.

The City of San Gabriel also acknowledged an arson suspect who was charged for a separate incident on July 12, the day following the fire. However, an official statement declared that this was an unrelated and separate act of arson; currently no arrests have been made nor any leads disclosed identifying a potential suspect.

The San Gabriel Fire Department said the initial investigation showed no sign of arson. However, some have speculated that due to the religious structure’s sensitively controversial connection to Father Junípero Serra and the legacy of the California Missions as a whole oppressing and decimating indigenous populations, there might have been some motive to actively vandalize or destroy the church.

Many monuments related to the religious crusade and Serra have been removed either forcibly by protestors or preemptively by institutions and city governments across California.

The mission’s statue of Serra was relocated in late June to an undisclosed location.

Two days after the fire San Gabriel Mayor Denise Menchaca gave a statement saying:

“We are all deeply heartbroken by the fire that took place earlier this week at the Mission San Gabriel. If you’d like to support the Mission San Gabriel during this challenging time, I encourage you to visit their website for more information on their recovery efforts.”

It was noted that a proper conclusion would require a significant amount of time to complete, with no further elaboration. No other information has been divulged to the public other than saying, “The investigation remains ongoing and a definite cause is still being determined by investigators.”

Eric Fabbro is a South Pasadenan whose family goes back to the 1950's. He graduated SPHS 2008, and Art Center College of Design in 2014. His versatile skill-set includes illustration, digital media, graphic design & photography. Eric is the in-house illustrator for The South Pasadenan, and the creator of our South Pasadenan icon logo. His work has been shown in galleries throughout the Los Angeles area.