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Church in southeast Bakersfield catches fire

Posted at 6:00 AM, Mar 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-08 21:02:10-05

Bakersfield Fire crews are working to determine the cause of a blaze that led a church to go up in flames. 

Crews responded to the First Community Baptist Church in the area of Anderson Street and East Planz just after 5 a.m. Tuesday.

"I got a call this morning at 5 o'clock...said the sanctuary was on fire," said Rev. James R. Edwards Sr., the church's pastor. 

It took crews just over two and a half hours to extinguish the fire. Part of the roof collapsed and the air conditioning unit fell into the church.

"There was a large air conditioning unit in the back part of the structure, and the fire, as it progressed through the attic naturally ventilated itself in that area. So, it actually helped the firefighters, because it created an opening for the smoke and the heat to exit the structure," said Captain Mike Lencioni, with Bakersfield Fire Department.

For the Edwards brothers, the church holds a rich family history. 

"My father used to pastor this church in 1963...I've been connected with the church over 51 years," said Rev. Lee Andrew Edwards.

He continued to call the situation bittersweet.

"My father built a new structure, which is still in tact, then he later built the social hall that is burnt today," said Rev. Lee Edwards.

The brothers both agreed they were glad no one said inside.

Arson investigators are working to determine if the fire is suspicious. 

Pastor Edwards says he is keeping his faith strong and focusing on the future.

"I'm not worried about the bricks in the building, because it can be replaced. And I know God will replace it," said Edwards.

The Edwards brothers are overwhelmed by the community outreach, extended beyond Kern County.

The church also plans to open a GoFundMe account.

Pastor Edwards is hopeful the electricity can be turned back on to resume for Sunday service. If not, he plans to gather his congregation at Union Missionary Baptist Church.