TEMPLE (January 29, 2010)—Someone set the fire that gutted the sanctuary of Temple’s First Baptist Church and an adjoining building on Jan. 19, Temple Fire & Rescue Chief Lonzo Wallace said Friday.
A criminal investigation is now underway, Wallace said.
Temple and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators found evidence in the rubble of the 70-year-old sanctuary that indicates the fire was deliberately set, but Wallace did not disclose what was found or where.
Investigators are reviewing video from security cameras in the area, Wallace said, and ATF investigators are looking into the possibility the Temple fire is linked to a string of fires that have damaged or destroyed churches in East Texas.
Six fires have broken out since Jan. 1 in churches in East Texas.
The most recent fire was on Jan. 17.
It destroyed the First Church of Christ in Tyler, doing an estimated $750,000 damage, the ATF said.
The day before, on Jan. 16, fire destroyed the Tyland Baptist Church in Tyler, doing an estimated $1 million in damage.
The fire that destroyed the sanctuary of the 70-year-old Temple church and an adjoining building that housed offices, music rooms and classrooms did an estimated $15 million in damage, officials said.
The church’s Child Development Center will remain closed until fire officials and state licensing officials can determine whether the center is safe.
Church members gathered last Sunday at the Mayborn Center in Temple and services are scheduled next Sunday at 8 a.m. the church’s Youth Center and at 11 a.m. at the Youth Center and at Temple’s First United Methodist Church at 102 N. 2nd St.
A Temple police officer spotted the flames and reported the fire at 5:24 a.m. last Tuesday and a second alarm was requested within a few minutes of the arrival of the first Temple Fire and Rescue crews.
A third alarm was requested at 5:40 a.m., calling in all off-duty firefighters.
The roof of the church collapsed around 6:30 a.m. as crews battled the flames from all four sides.
Firewalls, which were installed in 2003, are believed to have helped protect the remainder of the building.