Burned Ala. Churches File Claims as Fires Ruled Arson

February 8, 2006

The five rural Alabama Baptist churches either damaged or destroyed in fires last week were able to begin filing insurance claims Feb. 6 after all the fires were formally ruled arsons by the state insurance commissioner, the Associated Press reported.

But assessing the damage at the Bibb County churches, some historic and built with antiquated square nails, will not be an easy task.

“It’s hard to put an estimate to this,” said Ragan Ingram, spokesman for the state insurance department. “A lot of the buildings are extremely old. Beyond the tragedy that happened, there’s a lot of history lost.”

The fires destroyed three of the churches – Ashby Baptist Church in Brierfield, Pleasant Sabine near Centreville and Rehobeth Baptist in the Lawley community. Old Union Baptist at Brierfield and Antioch Baptist at Antioch suffered minimal damage.

There have been no arrests. Investigators wouldn’t elaborate on evidence they collected from the churches or the type of fuel used to set the fires.

Ingram said local, state and federal officials are pursuing several leads, but “the leads haven’t led us to a specific suspect or a motive.”

The five church fires were linked, but a sixth fire in neighboring Chilton County at the New Harmony Holiness Church on the same day was unrelated and presumed an accident, Ingram said.

The FBI is looking into whether the fires are a civil rights violations since religious property was intentionally damaged, said Special Agent Raymond Zicarelli.

Rewards totaling $10,000 have been offered by the state and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The Southern Baptist Convention has said it would provide financial assistance to all four member churches that were targeted, plus Pleasant Sabine Baptist, which is not a member of the organization.

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