Officials: Fire similarities too numerous to be coincidence

| February 5, 2010

WILLS POINT — Standing in a cold drizzle as he scanned the burned church in front of him Thursday morning, senior Tyler Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Clay Alexander spoke the words thought by many.

"We really have to catch this guy before he burns more churches," he said.
Alexander, who had been at home Thursday morning celebrating his birthday before he was called out to the fire, said the ATF's National Response Team was en route to Wills Point to begin processing the fire scene — in the sanctuary of the Russell Memorial United Methodist Church — for clues.

Since January, the team has been in East Texas as a rash of arsons has plagued area churches leaving the faith of multiple denominations and beliefs tested.

The number of fires in East Texas thought to be the work of the same person or persons now total eight.

Another fire in Temple at the First Baptist Church of Temple has been ruled arson, but officials believe that fire is not related to the East Texas fires.

The first fire ruled arson was at the Faith Church in Athens on Jan. 1. Then on Jan. 12, the Lake Athens Baptist Church and the Grace Community Church in Athens both burned.

Four days later, the Tyland Baptist Church on Loop 323 in Tyler was torched and the following night the First Church of Christ, Scientist on South Broadway Avenue in Tyler burned to the ground.

On Jan. 20, the arsonist struck again at the Prairie Creek Fellowship of Lindale on U.S. Highway 69.

Officials are becoming increasingly concerned about the fires and have since set up an East Texas Church Fires Task Force. The committee is manning phone lines around the clock in hopes a tip will lead to the persons responsible for the fires.

"We just need one tip to lead us to whoever is setting these fires," Alexander said.

Officials have said the similarities in the fires are too numerous to be coincidental and it is the officials' belief they are looking for one fire starter.

"Unless we have a copycat — and that can always happen — I believe we're looking for one person or one group in all of these fires," Alexander said.

Anyone with information is urged to call the task force at 903-939-6169 or 903-939-6172 or the ATF at 1-888-ATF-FIRE. A $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the recent string of East Texas fires.

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Category: Church Security

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