AUSTIN (February 9, 2010)--The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has set up a hotline for tips on who's responsible for a string of Texas church fires and the reward for information about the identity of the person or people responsible for setting them was increased to $25,000 Tuesday.
The federal agency announced Tuesday that tips may be called in at 888-ATF-FIRE.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said arson tip calls would also be answered at 903-675-0061, or 0062.
“We are working closely with our federal and local partners,” said Steven C. McCraw, director of the DPS.
“We are committed to sending whatever resources are required to bring this suspect to justice.”
Federal officials believe a serial arsonist is responsible for the rash of fires at churches in East Texas, but didn’t link those fires to the blaze on Jan. 19 that destroyed the sanctuary and an adjoining building on at Temple’s First Baptist Church.
The cause of the Temple fire was also arson.
Clay Alexander, the head of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives office in Tyler, said Tuesday, however, that one person or a group of people is at work in East Texas.
Alexander called the latest two fires, both of which broke out Monday night suspicious and said they’re being investigated as arsons, though an arson ruling hasn't been made.
The fires were reported within an hour of each other Monday night at churches about three miles apart in a rural area northwest of Tyler.
No injuries were reported in the fires at Dover Baptist Church and Clear Spring Missionary Baptist Church.
Alexander says officials aren't releasing details of how the churches were entered or what kind of accelerant was used.
The Temple fire not only destroyed the First Baptist sanctuary and the adjoining Building A that housed offices and classrooms, but also heavily damaged all but one other building on the church campus.
The Edge Youth Center is the only building church members are able to use.
Building B will have to be stripped down to the framing because of smoke and water damage and may require a new roof. For the most part, the contents could not be salvaged.
Building C will require new flooring and ceilings because of smoke and water damage on both floors.
Building D wasn’t damaged, but shared a power supply with Building C and it’s not known when the power will be restored.
Building E needs a new roof and remains without power.