February 27, 2024
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Muleshoe Firefighters respond to a fire at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Sunday. The fire prompted evacuation from Sunday morning church services.  
Gabby Perez/For The Journal

At 8 a.m. Sunday morning, worshippers at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church were unaware that the smell of smoke in the sanctuary was anything more than incense.

But Father Heriberto Mercado smelled and saw black smoke and flames above him at the beginning of morning mass.

“We have a very brave and heroic priest,” said Rosie Cabrera, president of the Parish Council.

At the time, Cabrera was in Fellowship Hall just behind the church, preparing after church breakfast along with other matachines, a group that dances in honor of feast days.

“I was outside the church. My family was inside though,” Cabrera said. “Father Mercado smelled the smoke; he was the first to see smoke and flames. He calmly got them out without making them aware of why getting they were getting out the of the church. Everyone got out safely – that was the most important thing.”

Cabrera estimates there were at least 200 people in the church at the time.

“Once they were outside, they saw flames and smoke come out from the corners of the roof, but no one was inside.”

Muleshoe Fire Department received the call at 8:04 a.m. and arrived at the church at 805 E Hickory Ave. at 8:10 a.m.

“Everybody was out when we got there,” said Muleshoe Fire Chief Tom Ladd. “We were on the scene for probably two and a half hours. The initial knock-down window took 30 minutes. The rest of the time we cleared the smoke out, checked everything and put out little hotspots.”

The fire department was helped at the scene by the Muleshoe Police Department, the Bailey County Sheriff Department, EMS and the Bovina Fire Department. The cause of the fire and amount of damage are being investigated by Fire Marshal Benny Parker.

Cabrera said there was damage to the attic area, the choir area, and the stained glass window image of Immaculate Conception, the church patron, at the front of the church.

The church had planned a series of events in honor of the feast days of Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe, including a procession to the church in honor of the saints.

Stacy Conner, pastor at First Baptist Church, invited members to come to First Baptist for evening mass.

“We held our procession down Main Street all the way to First Baptist,” Cabrera said.

And the after mass breakfast which had been prepared didn’t go to waste.

“Victor Leal got in touch and offered us his restaurant. Several parishioners loaded up all the food and took it over to Leal’s,” Cabrera said. “We’re grateful and thankful to feel the love from the community.”

Gail M. Williams

Muleshoe Journal Correspondent


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