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4-Alarm Fire Breaks Out At San Jose Church

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- Fire crews have contained a four-alarm fire at a church in San Jose Sunday afternoon, fire officials said.

Firefighters responded to the blaze at the Holy Cross Parish at 580 E. Jackson St. around 2:20 p.m., a dispatcher said. Crews contained the blaze around 5 p.m., although firefighters remain on scene, said fire spokesman Mike Van Elgort.

One neighbor said her father was one of the first people to call 911 when they saw flames erupting from the building.

"The flames were coming from the top of the roof," said JoVanna Cobos, who lives across the street from the church. "We could feel the flames and how hot it was from our porch."

Cobos saw the roof collapse and a cross fall to the ground, she said.

"Glass started shattering from the front of the porch (at the church) from all the pressure inside," Cobos said.

One of her neighbors, who also saw the fire when it started, ran to grab the pastor from inside the church, Cobos said. The afternoon mass service had just ended and there were several people inside the building when the fire started, Van Elgort said. He said all of the people inside got themselves out of the building by the time fire crews arrived.

"The pastor was looking around for where the fire started," he said.

Initial reports indicate the fire started on the second floor near the pipe organ, but Van Elgort said the official cause has not yet been determined and is subject to an investigation.

Van Elgort described the damage as "extensive," but shied away from calling it a total loss.

"The damage is heavy," Van Elgort said. "The whole roof collapsed and there's water damage throughout the building, but I've seen some amazing rebuilds."

Cobos said there was so much water her street looked like it was flooded.

"It's certainly uninhabitable and at risk of collapse," Van Elgort said of the church. "It won't be usable for months."

Another neighbor, Guadalupe, who declined to give his full name, said he lives behind the church and also works there as a janitor. He said he spoke to the pastor at the church, who he said seemed "calm."

"I don't know when I will be going back to work," he said. "It's really bad. I don't think they will be able to restore the church."

The historic building was founded as a mission of the St.  Patrick's Church in 1906, according to the church's website. It traditionally served Italian immigrants who lived in the north side of the neighborhood.

One firefighter was treated for a medical complaint sustained while he was battling the blaze, Van Elgort said.

Roughly 80 to 100 firefighters and command staff responded to the fire, Van Elgort said. Crews will remain on scene overnight to make sure no smoldering embers erupt again into flames, he said.

"We'll be here into the morning," Van Elgort said.

Attempts to reach a representative from the church were unsuccessful.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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