Image: Russell Memorial United Methodist Church in Wills Point, Texas
Mike Fuentes  /  AP file
Investigators talk in front of the burned Russell Memorial United Methodist Church in Wills Point, Texas on Feb. 4, one of a number of church fires in the area.
updated 2/21/2010 8:51:43 PM ET 2010-02-22T01:51:43

Two men who once attended church together were charged Sunday with intentionally burning down a church in east Texas and are suspected in a string of similar blazes, authorities said.

Jason Robert Bourque, 19, and 21-year-old Daniel George McAllister face one count of felony arson for a church fire in rural Smith County near Tyler, about 90 miles east of Dallas, said Tom Crowley, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Bond is set at $10 million apiece. They could face life in prison if convicted.

"Because they are charged with one doesn't mean they're not going to be charged with some of the others," Crowley said.

Crowley and Smith County jail officials said they had no information on attorneys for either men.

Bourque, of nearby Lindale, was arrested early Sunday in Van Zandt County, site of four of 10 church fires in east Texas this year that authorities believe were intentionally set, Crowley said.

McAllister was taken into custody in San Antonio, where Crowley said he had recently moved.

Telephone tip
He said Bourque and McAllister used to attend First Baptist Church in McAllister's hometown of Ben Wheeler.

The arrests were triggered by a telephone tip, although the suspects had been on the radar for several weeks, Crowley said.

One of the men was linked to the fire with DNA evidence, Crowley said. He said he had no other details on the DNA.

Officials declined to discuss a motive at a news conference Sunday. No injuries have been reported in the fires.

The outbreak started with a blaze at a church in Athens, and Crowley said another New Year's Day fire not far away has been added to the list of 10 suspected arsons in east Texas. A fire in the central Texas town of Temple, brings to 11 the statewide total of fires authorities believe are attributable to arson.

Authorities have said the federal investigation kicked in after two churches burned Jan. 11 in Athens. Less than a week later, four fires in five days was reported. The two most recent fires included the one that resulted in charges against Bourque and McAllister.

There were attempted break-ins at three churches in Tyler in early February, but those buildings were not burned, the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement.

"This investigation is not complete. But today marks a significant milestone," said Robert Champion, ATF agent in charge in Dallas.

David Mahfood, pastor of one of the Tyler churches that burned, said the word of the arrests "puts a period on the paragraphs of our lives," but said residents still think they must remain vigilant.

"We're blessed that no lives were lost and no one was injured, but I don't think we let our guard down," Mahfood said.

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