GREGG COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - The Gregg County Fire Marshal has released information that the fire which burned three church vans was caused by human action.
On Thursday, the fire marshal, along with ATF agents, concluded their scene investigation of the fire, which happened on March 27 at the First Baptist Church of Liberty City in Gregg County.
We spoke with the pastor and a church member about the findings.
The vans have been towed away, nothing left but debris and a burned spot in the parking lot. Pastor Paul Michael Vacca says it saddens him that a person was involved with the fire.
"The fact that there was a human element involved, you know we're concerned for that person," Vacca said.
He says he's concerned for the person's state of mind, and concerned about the possibility that the person was burned in the incident.
"It does not appear like it was arson in the sense of somebody just coming in here to light our vans on fire. It looks like it was accidental; someone trying to steal gas," Vacca revealed.
He says there was an incident in January.
"We had a gas tank drilled to steal gas," Vacca stated.
He says the church members found the van empty when they tried to start it and a mechanic discovered a drill hole in the gas tank.
"It looks like someone was trying to do the same thing before, caught themselves on fire then fled the scene because they left several things behind," Vacca explained.
Those items were gathered as evidence.
"A piece of clothing, like a hoodie that they had taken off, and then a couple cans. I think they were like vegetable oil or some kind of can like that to just collect fuel in," Vacca stated.
Church member Roy Dudley runs a driving school, and volunteers to help out with the buses, occasionally driving them.
"I believe that God has a will in everything He does, and if it means church vans are no longer with us, then that's okay," Dudley says.
Dudley says the buses are primarily used in the summer, taking people from the church to another destination and back.
"There's no home to church bus routes or anything that we do," Dudley added.
Dudley says the one working bus is meeting their needs right now. Pastor Vacca says if insurance doesn't come through in time for summer trips or missions, they will rent what they need.
Pastor Vacca says the first van that burned was parked in the same spot where the vehicle with the drill hole was parked back in January.
The Gregg County Sheriff's office would like anyone who has information about the fire to contact them, and are offering a Crimestoppers reward.