The seventh fire in 10 days to break out at a southern Black church may have been caused by lightning, the FBI announced Wednesday.
Officials from the FBI have ruled out arson, CNN reports. The blaze at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville was the latest in a handful of fires to occur after a racist shooting attack on the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston that resulted in the death of nine parishioners.
The latest fire sparked outrage and concern from the Black community, who have historically witnessed attacks on churches by members of the Ku Klux Klan or others motivated by racist ideologies. In fact, 20 years ago, two members of the KKK set fire to Mt. Zion’s original structure. Then-President Bill Clinton attended the dedication of a new structure in 1996, calling for an end to racial terrorism.
But FBI officials said investigators found no indicators of arson at the scene.
About 50 firefighters, local police, the FBI and five agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating. The Sheriff’s Office and state police are also pitching in. “Anytime there is a house of worship involved in a fire, ATF is automatically assigned to look into the cause,” said agency Special Agent Tom Mangan.
Regardless of the cause of Tuesday’s blaze at the church about 65 miles north of Charleston, “it was another punch to the gut” to the community, said former state Rep. Bakari Sellers on CNN Wednesday. “This community has been through so much,” he said, alluding to April 4 shooting death of Walter Scott by a white police officer, who has been charged with murder, and the Charleston church massacre in June. “We are weary,” he said. “We are tired.”
The latest findings come on the heels of a report that about 84 percent of church fires are not intentionally set, the Associated Press reports. Many are not arson or hate crimes, data from the National Fire Protection Association shows.
In fact, between 2001 and 2011, at least 31 church structures burned weekly, but only about five of those were arson. The numbers, however, are not broken down by the predominant race of congregations, making it difficult to pinpoint just how many fires occur at Black or White churches.