Firefighters from several departments responded to a call about 8:30 p.m. to Dover Baptist Church near Lindale, Texas. According to the Tyler Morning Telegraph, flames were breaking through the roof about 20 minutes after the first witnesses spotted the blaze.
A short time later a second fire was reported at Clear Springs Missionary Baptist Church, located on a county road near the Smith-Van Zandt county line. Witnesses told local media the building was destroyed in minutes.
Investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were on the scene at both fires. Earlier in the day the ATF determined that a fire that destroyed the sanctuary of Russell Memorial United Methodist Church in Wills Point, Texas, Feb. 4 was set intentionally. The Methodist church was the eighth suspicious church fire in East Texas since Jan. 1. Officials are now also investigating fires in December to see if there is any connection.
According to the Tyler newspaper, Carl Samples, pastor of Dover Baptist Church, said the fire appeared to have been centered at the back of the church near the pulpit area. The church, founded in 1865, has a current membership of about 50.
Earlier fires were said to be started with some kind of accelerant.
The first fire ruled arson occurred New Year’s Day at Faith Church in Athens, Texas. Two more Athens churches burned Jan. 12, Lake Athens Baptist Church and Grace Community Church.
Tyland Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, went down in flames Jan. 16. Arson hit Jan. 20 at Prairie Creek Fellowship in Lindale.
In central Texas, a fire that gutted the historic sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Temple Jan. 19 has also been determined to be arson.
The ATF is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the fires.