Home Fire News Official: Fire at SC Black Church not Arson

Official: Fire at SC Black Church not Arson

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A fire that destroyed a predominantly black church in South Carolina on Tuesday night, two weeks after a shooting killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, was not arson, according to a report by the Associated Press on Wednesday.


Smoke rises from Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal church Wednesday, July 1, 2015, in Greeleyville, S.C., which caught fire Tuesday. The African-American church that was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan in 1995 caught fire again Tuesday night. (Veasey Conway/The Morning News via AP)


The fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Greeleyville, located about 50 miles north of Charleston, was not intentionally set, the AP reported, citing a federal law enforcement source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Fire crews brought the blaze under control overnight on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, only the walls of the Greeleyville church remained standing. The roof had collapsed.



Firefighters work at the scene of a fire at 
Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal church in Greeleyville, S.C.Tuesday, June 30, 2015. The African-American church that was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan in 1995 caught fire again Tuesday night. (Veasey Conway/The Morning News via AP)


The cause of the fire remains unknown, and is still under investigation. No one is believed to have been in the church at the time the fire erupted, and there have been no injuries reported.



Investigators peer inside the 
Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal ChurchWednesday, July 1, 2015, in Greeleyville, S.C. The African-American church, which was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan in 1995, caught fire Tuesday night, but authorities said arson is not the cause. (Veasey Conway/The Morning News via AP)


There was speculation that the cause of the fire may have been related to reports of storms and lightning in the area earlier in the evening.

But since a young white man shot nine black people in the Emanuel AME church on 17 June, at least six predominantly African American churches in the south have been set ablaze. The fire at Mount Zion brings that tally to at least seven.



Ashes lie by a cornerstone outside 
Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal ChurchWednesday, July 1, 2015, in Greeleyville, S.C. The African-American church, which was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan in 1995, caught fire Tuesday night, but authorities said arson is not the cause. (Veasey Conway/The Morning News via AP)


Mark Keel, chief of South Carolina law enforcement division, said investigators would be on the scene first thing Wednesday morning.

“We do know they apparently had some strong storms,” Keel said. “Talked to a guy who said they had a lot of lightning down there tonight. I don’t know whether that had anything to do with it at all.”



Investigators from the 
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division sift through ashes and charred debris inside the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal church, Wednesday, July 1, 2015, in Greeleyville, S.C. The African-American church, which was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan in 1995, caught fire Tuesday night, but authorities said arson is not the cause. (Veasey Conway/The Morning News via AP)


South Carolina newspaper the Post and Courier reported that Mount Zion AME was burned to the ground in a Ku Klux Klan attack in 1995. Two KKK members pleaded guilty to starting the fire, as well as a second at another predominantly black church. They were each sentenced to nearly two decades in prison.


President Bill Clinton spoke at Mount Zion AME in 1996, telling churchgoers: “Our hearts must be purged of any temptation to go back to those times of division that cost us so dearly, especially here in the southern part of our country.”


Williamsburg County councilman Eddie Woods Jr said of Tuesday night’s blaze: “That was a tough thing to see … It is hurting those people again.”



Investigators from the 
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division remove the remains of a door from the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal ChurchWednesday, July 1, 2015, in Greeleyville, S.C. The African-American church, which was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan in 1995, caught fire Tuesday night, but authorities said arson is not the cause. (Veasey Conway/The Morning News via AP)


“But we’re going to rebuild. If this was someone, they need to know that hate won’t stop us again.”



Emergency personnel continue their work at 
Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, S.C.Wednesday, July 1, 2015, after it was heavily damaged by fire. The church was the target of arson by the Ku Klux Klan two decades ago but a law enforcement source told The Associated Press that the most recent fire was not arson. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)


Other southern churches to have been hit in the last two weeks include:

  • College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, which caught fire on 22 June. The fire department said the cause of the fire was deliberate.

  • God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia, which was set alight on 23 June. Investigators are treating it as arson.

  • Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, which was completely destroyed on 24 June in an incident fire investigators are treating as arson. 

  • Glover Grove Baptist Church in Warrenville, South Carolina, which was set ablaze on 26 June. Investigators say the cause is so far “undetermined”.


The Greater Miracle Apostolic Holiness Church in Tallahassee, Florida, also burned to the ground last week, but fire officials said the cause was thought to have been an electrical fault.


Another fire, at Fruitland Presbyterian Church in Gibson County, Tennessee, on 24 June, may have been caused by a lightning strike, but an investigation is ongoing.


Tuesday evening also saw the last of the services for the nine victims of the Charleston shooting, as tributes were paid to longtime pastor Daniel L Simmons Sr.


The three-hour service for Simmons drew a large crowd to Greater St Luke AME Church in Charleston.


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