ATHENS, TX (KLTV) - An East Texas town is plagued by three church fires in just 10 days, including two in just two hours. The latest fires happened just Tuesday night.
First, at 10:45pm, crews were called to a fire at Grace Community Church, south of Athens. Then, around midnight, a fire broke out at Lake Athens Baptist Church on County Road 2495.
These fires come just 10 days after Faith Church of Athens went up in flames. Authorities say they don't believe these fires are an accident.
"First thing you suspect is that they're being set," said Athens Fire Department Chief, John McQueary. "They had the same size-up, they had heavy smoke coming up from high on the eaves and it was from the sanctuary area."
Smoke damage borders the roof of Grace Community Church in Athens which still stands, but on the inside, wall to wall destruction.
"We attempted with multiple lines to put the fire out," said McQueary. "We were unsuccessful."
McQueary utilized every bit of manpower when the first call came for Grace. Soon, he was forced to split it.
"It's scary because the first one you're on is well involved and you're fearful now the other one is going to be well involved because it's probably from the same individual," explained McQueary.
It is the same person authorities believed headed to Lake Athens Baptist Church, mirroring the previous fire at Grace and the blaze at Faith Church of Athens, just 10 days earlier.
"They stole the same objects in each church and just those particular objects the fire was located in the same point of origin in the buildings," said McQueary.
Firefighters backed out, fearing a collapse and kept flames contained, preventing a total loss.
"We're just completing this month 16,000 square foot gymnasium and classrooms and thankfully it was not damaged beyond just some smoke," said John Green, Pastor of Lake Athens Baptist.
Sheriff's deputies scoured the scenes the day after while ATF agents walked the crime scene with explosive sniffing dogs, searching for anything to find the person or people responsible.
"You have to have a little luck on your side but we are going to get bold and we're going to get aggressive and find this person or this group of people," said McQueary.
Authorities say they plan to coordinate their arson investigation with both local and federal agencies.