A South Carolina church was engulfed by flames on Tuesday night as up to 50 fire fighters fought to control the blaze.
Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina becomes the latest historic black church to fall victim to an intense blaze. However, authorities are currently unaware of what caused the fire.
Cezar McKnight, a South Carolina Democrat, stood by the fire, which lasted almost three hours and started at 8:30 pm. Mr McKnight spoke to the Post and Courier, stating he was only hoping for the best.
“South Carolina has been through a lot the last two weeks and we’ve made the best of a terrible situation. I would hate for this to be something somebody did on purpose to try to poison the love and fellowship.”
Mount Zion becomes the seventh black church to burn across four southern states — two are currently being investigated as arson. The string of fires comes after confessed shooter Dylann Roof fatally shot nine black parishioners at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The blaze was reported just nine hours after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issued a statement warning black churches of potential arson.
“NAACP State Conferences and units are now alerting black churches to take necessary precautions.”
However, church fires in the United States are relatively common, the Los Angeles Times reported: “The most recent data available from the National Fire Protection Association, officials responded to 1,660 fires at religious and funeral properties in 2011, down from 3,500 in 1980.”
CCFD on scene mutual aide to Williamsburg County for working fire at Mt. Zion AME Church. Fire now under control. pic.twitter.com/Wt13RLGQDohyphen; Clarendon County FD (@clarendonfire) July 1, 2015
Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined the investigation with local law enforcement officials and little has been confirmed as to how the blaze began. The AFT has led investigations in the other states where churches burned last week including: Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
In 1995, the church was one of many black churches in the south targeted by Ku Klux Klan members. The wave of arsons prompted then-President Bill Clinton into signing the Church Arson Prevention Act, which increased jail time for those caught burning churches.
Update — 10:00am, 1 July
Greeleyville Mayor Jessie Parker spoke at a press conference Wednesday morning saying he was saddened by last night's fire.
"Greeleyville is a small community with a big heart. To see flames again gives an ill feeling."
Mr Parker thanked the firefighters who responded to the scene, as investigators say they "will not rule anything out" in regards to what caused the fire.
“We ask that you continue to pray for the church and the Greeleyville community. It’s a hurtful feeling and I’m saddened by what happened,” he said.