Arson Fires Put Local Sheriffs On High Alert

Deputy Stan Hinson has no reason to believe the arsonist or arsonists that burned country churches in Bibb County and west Alabama will strike Elmore County but there is always that chance.

That's why you see deputies like Hinson checking out rural churches carefully, all part of the job now, some 175 churches call Elmore County home. On this day we followed Deputy Hinson to check out Beulah Baptist Church.

"We look for open doors, and like you said smoke, some things we look for," said Hinson.

It was just 6 years ago when an arsonist burned down two churches in Elmore County. No one was ever arrested in those two cases.

"Never say never. We won't give up the faith," said Sheriff Bill Franklin.

Farther south in Pike County, Sheriff Russell Thomas immediately put deputies on church patrol after the second round of fires in west Alabama.

"Some of these churches are down dirt roads and are isolated. They're looking for vehicles that may be leaving," said Sheriff Thomas.

Some may wonder whether patrolling the country churches is worth the time and expense. Obviously there are far more churches than deputies. Pike County has around 4 deputies per shift covering more than 670 square miles, 5 deputies per shift covering 630 square miles for Elmore County.

But Hinson for one says you can never discount the element of surprise.

"You never know when we're going to drive by. We don't set a time-table. After we check one church, we may come right back within 10 minutes," Deputy Hinson said.

So far so good, nothing suspicious at Beulah Baptist in Elmore County. It's on to the next church now for Deputy Hinson.

Sheriff Thomas says his county has never had a church fire, a county with about 80 rural churches. Arson investigators have already indicated the church fires in Bibb County and west Alabama are probably connected. Sheriff Bill Franklin says there is no way of knowing just yet whether the Elmore County fires in 2000 are connected to the most recent ones.