MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A team of state and federal investigators are headed to west Alabama today to investigate another series of fires that occurred overnight at four rural churches in west Alabama.
The fires are being investigated as suspected arson. Ragan Ingram, spokesman for the Alabama Insurance Department, says at least three of the four churches burned have predominantly black congregations.
The churches and locations (see map) according to the Alabama State Fire Marshal's Office are:
- Dancy Baptist Church, located south of Aliceville on Alabama Highway 17 -- damaged /Arson
- Spring Valley Baptist Church, located near Emelle in Sumter County on Alabama Highway 116 -- damaged/Arson
- Morning Star Baptist Church, located near Boligee in Greene County, on County Road 20 -- destroyed
- Galilee Baptist Church, located near Panola in Sumter County -- destroyed
The fires come only four days after arsons destroyed or damaged five country churches in Bibb County, south of Birmingham.
A church member of the Morning Star Baptist Church in Boligee told the Associated Press that he was alerted to the fire by a school bus driver. Johnny Archibald says he arrived at the church about 6:45 a.m. to see smoke pouring out of the windows and flames visible near the pulpit. "I don't know what's going on. It's just sickness," said Archibald.
A spokesman for Congressman Artur Davis, who represents the areas where the new church fires occurred, issued the following statement: "Congressman Davis is deeply concerned about the rash of church fires that have occurred in recent days in Alabama. Today, it has been reported that four more churches were burned overnight, all within the boundaries of the 7th Congressional District. Our hearts go out to the pastors, families and communities impacted by this tragedy, and we each should offer a prayer that they be comforted during this trying time."
The four church fires reported today are in three connected and sparsely populated counties in west Alabama, not far from the Mississippi line.
Ingram said in the past five years there have been 58 church fires in Alabama, including the three reported today. He said 19 were ruled arsons.
Investigators are looking for a dark-colored sport-utility vehicle in connection with the blazes in Bibb County. Anyone having any information related to any of the nine fires which have hit churches recently should call the ATF hotline at 1-888-ATF- FIRE (24 hours a day).