The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Fire damages Muleshoe church

 

Last updated 12/14/2021 at 2:54pm

Photo submitted by Laura Mora

An early Sunday morning fire did major damage inside Muleshoe's Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.

MULESHOE — Officials continue to investigate the cause of a fire that broke out early Sunday morning at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Muleshoe. Church members said no injuries were reported. Fire Marshal Benny Parker said damage was contained to the choir loft area and surrounding areas from heat, smoke and firefighters’ efforts to limit spread.

Marissa Hernandez, a lifelong church member, said a couple of hundred people were inside, preparing to begin Mass, when they smelled smoke about 8 a.m.

“A lot of us thought it was incense,” she said, “that’s kind of how it smelled at first.” But as the smell grew stronger everyone was evacuated and firefighters summoned.

Hernandez said she saw a few flames after firefighters arrived, but she wasn’t sure about the extent of damage to the building.

“(Sunday was) the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” church member Victor Leal said. “Traditionally we gather in the early morning to sing songs in her honor.” Leal said he wasn’t present when the fire started, but “It is believed to have started in the heating units in the attic.”

Many of the parishioners went to Leal’s restaurant after the fire.

“The mood was subdued at the restaurant,” Leal said. “Some were crying. But overall there is a sense of optimism that God will turn this into something good. He always does.”

Leal said his mother, Irma Leal, was among church members who cried when she heard the news. “She did a lot of fundraisers to help build and furnish it back in the late 1950s,” Victor Leal said.

Church members rallied quickly, making plans to complete celebrations that had been planned throughout the day. An outdoor Mass was held at noon and a procession planned to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe concluded at Muleshoe’s First Baptist Church where Mass was held on Sunday afternoon.

First Baptist Church Pastor Stacy Conner said Immaculate Conception church members will continue to conduct Mass in their own fellowship hall and the Baptist church will accommodate funeral services for Immaculate Conception until the Catholic church can be repaired.

Publisher David Stevens and Staff Writer Steve Hansen contributed to this report.

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