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Massive late-night fire burns Oakland’s oldest Black church

Oakland fire officials responded to a three-alarm blaze Sunday night at First African Methodist Episcopal Church. | Screenshot courtesy Oakland Fire Department

A massive fire at the oldest Black church in Oakland late Sunday night drew dozens of firefighters to the scene as crews worked for hours to extinguish the blaze.

The fire at First African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is located near the corner of 37th Street and Telegraph Avenue, did not cause any injuries, according to the Oakland Fire Department. It's unclear what started the three-alarm blaze around 10:45 p.m.

Crews were continuing to put water on an active fire in the upper areas of the church nearly four hours into the incident, officials said. Meanwhile, firefighters continued to look for additional hot spots.

Fire officials tweeted out video of the fire and noted that they were treating the scene as a "defensive firefight" by using three ladder pipes and crews on the ground to put water onto the roof and interior of the building.

Pastor Rodney Smith posted a video to social media saying that the building was "completely gutted." He also noted the unique place in history the church holds, as it was the first African American church in the East Bay.

"We don’t know why, we don’t know who, but it's burning down," Smith said in the video. "But I promise you this, we will rise again."

The Oakland Library's website notes that First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Oakland began in 1858, while Smith said in his video that the congregation moved into the church in 1954.

The fire occurred on the same day a blaze at a PG&E substation knocked out power to 50,000 East Bay residents.