Charlotte, North Carolina, fire department officials say that the fire that consumed Briar Creek Baptist Church early Wednesday morning was arson. None of the church’s approximately 100 primarily-black congregants were harmed in the fire, but two responders were injured. The damage is estimated at more than $250,000 and the church’s main building—which contained classrooms used for summer camp—is unusable. The sanctuary was saved.
According to the Charlotte Observer, a resident in nearby apartment complex made a 12:52 a.m. 911 call to alert authorities. “The Baptist church on Briar Creek Road right before Central, it’s on fire. It’s really big,” the caller said. It took 75 firefighters and 14 engines an hour to put out the three-alarm blaze.
Now investigators have determined that the fire was set on purpose. “Fire pattern analysis and excavation of fire debris, looking for clues and evidence and the evidence that we found out here does indicate that it’s a set fire,” the Charlotte Fire Department’s senior fire investigator, David Williams told Time Warner Cable News.
In the wake of last week’s deadly shooting at a South Carolina church, investigators are still trying to determine if the arson was a hate crime. “Anytime anybody sets any kind of structure on fire that’s disturbing,” Charlotte Fire Department’s public information manager Cynthia Robbins Shah-Khan told The Washington Post. “But as of today we don’t have any information one way or the other. The investigators are just going to be following the leads and seeing where it takes them.”
Rhonda Kinsey, co-pastor of the church, hopes it wasn’t racially motivated: “When I did think about the possibilities of there being any ugliness behind this, I instantly start praying and just saying: ‘God, just please have mercy.’”
The church’s 28-child summer camp will be relocated to the nearby former home of another church. The investigation is being handled by the Charlotte Fire Investigation Task Force, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, a special agent from the State Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a North Carolina Bureau of Investigation agent.