Video: Alabama church fire probe

updated 2/20/2006 3:28:17 PM ET 2006-02-20T20:28:17

A suspicious fire did minor damage to the exterior of a small church, but authorities said Monday it does not appear to be linked to a string of suspected arsons that have damaged or destroyed 10 rural churches in Alabama.

The regional director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Jim Cavanaugh, said investigators believe the fire at the small church in Glencoe was started by someone from the area.

Johnny Chambers, acting chief of the Glencoe Police Department, said members of the joint federal-state task force investigating the cases were asked to review the blaze that occurred early Sunday at Chapman’s Chapel.

The church is small and isolated, like the other ones that burned. “You can’t see it from the road,” said Chambers.

But the church is located in northeast Alabama, about 75 miles from the nearest of the previous fires, and the fire began outside the building. The earlier blazes were started inside buildings, mostly near the pulpit.

Cavanaugh said the Glencoe fire appeared to have started by someone throwing a Molotov cocktail against the building.

Ragan Ingram, a spokesman with the state fire marshal’s office, said Chapman’s Chapel, which has less than 20 members, had “very minor damage” to the outside of the building. Flames melted a small section of vinyl siding and darkened a larger area.

No arrests have been made in the 10 suspected arsons, although a man described by authorities as being mentally troubled was charged last week in a copycat fire that was set at an abandoned church in east Alabama.

The task force also is still investigating a pair of fires in Tuscaloosa, where a building that houses a Christian-themed apparel business was destroyed Friday night. A small fire damaged a Methodist campus ministry at the University of Alabama the same day.

Cavanaugh said the cause of the fire at the campus ministry appears to have been accidental, possibly started by a candle. He said the investigation of the other Tuscaloosa fire was just beginning.

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