Arson Ruled Out in Latest South Carolina Black Church Fire

GRELLEYVILLE, S.C. (AP) — A fire that destroyed a black church in South Carolina was not the work of an arsonist, a federal law enforcement source said Wednesday.

Preliminary indications are that the fire at the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville was not intentionally set and was not arson, the source said. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly. The fire is still under investigation, the official said.

The blaze was reported about 9 p.m. Tuesday as storms moved through the area. It gutted the church. No one was believed to be inside at the time.

Greeleyville is a town of about 400 people around 50 miles north of Charleston, where a pastor and eight members of a historic black church were fatally shot on June 17 in what authorities are investigating as a hate crime.

The same church was burned in 1995. Two members of the Ku Klux Klan pleaded guilty to starting that fire and a second blaze at another predominantly black church.

The fire occurred as federal authorities are investigating a series of fires at black churches in several Southern states. So far, there is no indication the fires are related.

On Wednesday morning, only the brick walls of the church remained. The roof had collapsed, and the long slender windows no longer had glass in them.

The side of the church facing the rural highway had a white cross that appeared charred.

Investigators were walking through the debris, taking pictures and examining the remains of the building.

Yellow crime scene tape kept reporters and nearby residents away from the building.

Six other church fires at predominantly black churches have been reported across the South in just over a week.