Man Arrested in Copycat Church Fire Case

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- A man described as mentally disturbed is in jail today on suspicion of setting fire to an abandoned church building in the White Plains community.

Authorities describe last night's fire as a copycat case after a string of recent church arsons in rural Alabama. Calhoun County Chief Deputy Matthew Wade said the 21-year-old man lived beside the old White Plains Church of God and has a brother who is a volunteer firefighter.

Wade alleges that the man wanted to see his brother put out a fire. Sheriff Larry Amerson said investigators believe the suspect, whom he identified as Jason Phillips, set fire to the old church and sparked several recent brush fires after watching news coverage of the church arsons.

Amerson said the arrest was "absolutely not" linked to a string of fires that have destroyed or damaged 10 rural Baptist churches since February third in central and west Alabama.

Federal agents say no arrests have been made in those arson-related blazes. The sheriff said Phillips is believed to be either mentally retarded or mentally ill, but investigators aren't sure.

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