A rash of church fires and millions of dollars worth of damages, has compelled the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to deploy their National Response Team to investigate to the burning of a church in Wills Point, Texas.
Russell Memorial United Methodist Church is the eighth church in close proximity to catch on fire since New Year’s Day.
Six of the seven church fires that started in January happened just nine days apart, with this latest one occurring on Thursday, February 4, 2010.
Authorities indicate seven of the fires are now known to have been set deliberately.
Investigators are determining if this latest fire at Wills Point church is because of arson and somehow connected with the others.
Some churches are reporting installations of security systems, hiring security guards or patrols or calling on church volunteers to lookout during the night.
The Tyland Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas on Jan. 16, 2010 was destroyed by fire. The next day, Jan. 17th, the First Church of Christ was damaged with an estimated damage of $750,000.
On January 19, another church was destroyed in Temple, Texas.
“In 1978, ATF developed the NRT to bring its expertise to federal, state and local investigators in meeting the challenges faced at the scenes of significant arson and explosives incidents,” states the ATF. “The NRT consists of four teams organized geographically to cover the United States. Each team can respond within 24 hours to assist state and local law enforcement/fire service personnel in onsite investigations.”
The NRT was activated for a fatality fire in Houston in March 2007, the Governor’s Mansion in Austin in June 2008 and the Gallery Furniture fire in Houston in May 2009.
Besides investigating hundreds of large fire scenes, the NRT was activated to scenes such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Oklahoma City federal building bombing and the Sept. 11, 2001, Pentagon crash site.
“The teams are each composed of veteran special agents who have post-blast and fire origin-and-cause expertise; forensic chemists; explosives enforcement officers; fire protection engineers; accelerant detection canines; explosives detection canines; intelligence support, computer forensic support and audit support,” states ATF press releases.
“The teams work alongside state and local officers in reconstructing the scene, identifying the seat of the blast or origin of the fire, conducting interviews, and sifting through debris to obtain evidence related to the bombing/arson.
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