BRUCE SMITH, Associated Press
RAY HENRY, Associated Press
GREELEYVILLE, South Carolina (AP) — As social media buzzed about church fires in the South, investigators announced Thursday that weather caused a destructive blaze at a predominantly black church in South Carolina.
The State Law Enforcement Division said in a statement that investigators found no evidence of criminal intent in the fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, about 50 miles north of the “Mother Emanuel” church in Charleston where nine people were killed June 17.
The pastor at the rural black church targeted by the Ku Klux Klan 20 years ago had said he suspected lightning was to blame.
SLED says its conclusion was based on an examination of the scene, analysis of debris, witness statements and a lightning strike report.
“All of the factors led us to the conclusion that the cause of this fire was natural,” SLED spokesman Thom Berry said.
While investigators look into other fires, a question is spreading online: #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches?
The answers could likely be no different than what causes other buildings to burn, according to analysts studying the incidents reported by fire departments nationwide.
More than half of fires at houses of worship from 2007 to 2011 were blamed on cooking equipment and heating and electrical systems, according to estimates by the National Fire Protection Association. The association based its estimate on data collected by the U.S. Fire Administration and supplemented with survey results. An estimated 16 percent were intentionally set, and some fraction of those were later deemed hate crimes. Those figures on fires at religious structures include a small number of funeral homes.
Henry reported from Atlanta. Associated Press Writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, and Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
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