Wednesday, February 10 2010 11:39 AM EST2010-02-10 16:39:42 GMT
Three nearby churches were broken into, but unlike their unfortunate neighbors, they did not go up in flames, Clear View Church and Pine Brook Baptist Church on Highway 110 reported break-ins just minutes after the fire was called in at Dover Baptist Church.More >>
EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - The East Texas faith community is on alert again after two more churches burn to the ground. There have been nine suspicious church fires since the beginning of the year -seven have already been ruled arson.
Dover Baptist Church near Lindale was completely gutted Monday night. The first call came in around 8:30pm and, within minutes, fire crews were on their way to battle a fire at Clear Spring Baptist Church, just a few miles down the road.
Authorities have more than doubled the reward for any information leading to an arrest and conviction - raising it from $10,000 to $25,000.
A national ATF response team is expected to be set up at both sites, meanwhile, the Salvation Army and multiple crews from across East Texas have set -up shop to begin, yet another, suspicious church fire investigation.
"I go to church here...our investigators go to church here, and we're as upset about it as anyone," said Clay Alexander with ATF.
Fire crews, federal agents and accelerant sniffing dogs are becoming an all too familiar site.
"The first thing that came to mind was, ‘Oh no...Not us!'" said Dover Baptist Church Pastor Carl Samples.
He got the call from one of his members. When he arrived, his church was engulfed. Just moments later fire officials say the door of Clear Spring Baptist Church was kicked in, and another fire set inside the sanctuary of the church.
The job is, again, figuring out exactly what and who is responsible.
"It could be one person, but we feel it's probably more than one," said Alexander.
Alexander says it is too early to say the two fires are connected, but they are suspicious.
"The similarities are disturbing," he said.
And, so is the apparent motive.
"There are a lot of things that haven't been stolen that could have been," said Alexander…it's obvious that whoever's doing it, the intent is to destroy the church," said
"It's a Baptist, a Methodist, what type of church...black, white, it's a church and they're burning them," said Smith County Fire Marshal Jim Seaton.
The question remains: How many more?
"It's not going to stop until we catch them," said Alexander.
"Ask God to put a stop to it...because he has control of all of it," said Samples.
Now, investigators say security will be on duty 24-7 while the investigation continues at both these churches.
The fires have also gotten the attention of federal authorities in Washington. Officials say they are also working to set-up a 24-hour critical command post somewhere in Smith County to handle tips and information.
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