Arson investigators continued to sift through debris late Sunday after a fast-moving fire came close to destroying one of Houston’s historic black churches, St. John Missionary Baptist Church, whose congregation dates back more than a century to 1899.
Fortunately, the roaring inferno was confined to the classroom wing and only smoke damaged the landmark sanctuary and chapel located downtown in Houston’s Third Ward, said Houston fire spokesman Jay Evans, But the soot and water were enough to keep the building closed Sunday as services were relocated to the nearby Crowne Plaza Hotel on Smith Street, said the church’s pastor since 2005, Dr. Terrance D. Grant-Malone.
Yet church members took heart that most of the main three-story, buff-colored brick building–featuring a neoclassic temple design with six giant columns holding up a portico–remained mostly in tact.
“This fire is still under investigation. We cannot speculate yet what caused it or where it started,” said Evans. However, firefighters at the scene speculated the origin was electrical, the pastor said.
The fire erupted at 1:42 a.m. Sunday and quickly escalated to a major three-alarm blaze, but firefighters were able to extinguish it by about 3 a.m., officials said.
The fire spread into first-floor classrooms and into a hallway, but never reached the sanctuary–although it knocked out the elevator, said the pastor.
“We’re grateful no one was inside when it happened,” he said.