Two More Churches Burn in East Texas

Blazes are ninth, 10th in string of suspicious church fires since Jan. 1

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Separate fires raged at two more churches in East Texas on Monday night.

    Separate fires raged at two more churches in East Texas on Monday night.

    If confirmed to be arson, they would be the ninth and 10th churches set on fire in Texas since New Year's Day.

    The reward for information leading to the identity of the arsonist responsible for a rash of East Texas church fires has been increased to $25,000 according The Texas Department of Public Safety.

    "They are active fires," said a dispatcher with the Smith County sheriff's office in Tyler shortly after 11 p.m. "We have multiple departments working them."

    The blazes broke out at about the same time.

    The first occurred about 15 miles northwest of Tyler at the Dover Baptist Church on Farm to Market Road 1995 near state Highway 110.

    The second fire was reported about three miles away at the Clear Springs Baptist church located at 14214 County Road 426.

    "I can't comprehend how anyone would do the Lord's house this way," Dover Pastor Carl Samples said.

    A team of investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was already in the area looking into the string of earlier church arsons and rushed to the scene of the latest blazes, said ATF agent Tom Crowley.

    Clay Alexander, the head of the ATF office in Tyler, said Tuesday that one person or a group of people is at work in east Texas.

    Alexander says officials aren't releasing details of how the churches were entered or what kind of accellerant was used.

    Clear Spring Pastor Brandon Owens vowed that Sunday services would continue.

    "We've just got to do what the Lord instilled us to the do," Owens said Monday night as he surveyed the damage at his church.

    McCoy-Wasson, who was first on the scene at Clear Spring Missionary Baptist Church, described fire coming out of its roof. The back door of the church was found broken, she said.

    Dover Baptist recently took precautions because of so many church fires, trustee Albert Valadez said. The staff barred the church doors and installed "dummy" inoperable video cameras above the main doors, the Tyler Morning Telegram reported Tuesday.

    The fires came hours after the ATF confirmed that the eighth east Texas church fire, at the Russell Memorial United Methodist Church in Wills Point last Thursday, was arson.

    Crowley said it was too early to determine if Monday night's fires were arson, but the two fires in such close proximity made them suspicious.

    The sheriff's office said it was investigating a church burglary at about the same time at the Clearview Church of Christ, not far from the two fires. It was not immediately clear if the burglary was related to the other incidents.

    "We would just like to find out why this is going on and please stop it," Smith County Fire Marshal Jim Seaton said.

    The ATF reports the two fires Monday are being added to their official tally of three church fires in Athens, two in Tyler, one in Wills Point and one in Lindale. The ATF reports that they have, at times, counted a church fire in the Central Texas town of Temple among the church fires they are investigating bringin the total to 10.

    Anyone with information on the identity of the person(s) committing these arsons is urged to call the ATF's hotline: 888-ATF-FIRE.