LOS ANGELES — A homeless man was in police custody Monday for allegedly starting a major emergency fire that destroyed a church in the South Park neighborhood of Los Angeles and injured three firefighters, authorities said.
The fire was reported at 2:22 a.m. Sept. 11 at the two-story Victory Baptist Church, 4802 S. McKinley Ave., according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Carlos Diaz, 23, was arrested on Sunday and was arrested on suspicion of arson of a structure, with additional charges pending, according to the LAFD.
“LAFD arson investigators and the House of Worship Multi-Agency Arson Task Force have opened an investigation into the cause of the fire,” an LAFD statement said. “Initial information revealed no immediate evidence of an intentional fire; however, their persistence later revealed security footage to help connect the dots.
The joint investigation included personnel from the Los Angeles School Police Department and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Investigators were aided by eyewitnesses, the LAFD reported.
About 150 firefighters were dispatched to the scene of the blaze on Sept. 11, said LAFD’s Nicholas Prange.
“Crews first entered to find heavy smoke inside the structure,” Prange said in a statement. “As firefighters entered, inevitably introducing more air to the conditions inside, the fire behavior rapidly worsened. About 30 minutes after firefighters arrived, there was a structural collapse inside, trapping several LAFD members.
Two Mayday calls were radioed for trapped personnel, and nearby crews quickly rescued three firefighters, officials said. One was taken to hospital in moderate condition, a second finished fighting the fire and was later hospitalized in fair condition, and a third followed alone with care after the incident, Prange said. .
After the collapse inside the building, crews retreated in defensive operations, pouring water on the flames from outside the building. The fire was extinguished within an hour and 40 minutes, Prange said.