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Investigators Say Weather Caused Mount Zion AME Church To Burn

Fire crews took two hours to control the blaze at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, S.C., on Tuesday. Authorities blame the fire on weather.

Investigators say weather caused a predominantly black church in Greeleyville, S.C., to burn down, according to The Associated Press. A statement from the State Law Enforcement Division says there was no evidence of criminal intent in the blaze at the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church.

As NPR's Maanvi Singh reported yesterday:

"The Associated Press quotes a 'federal source' saying that Tuesday's fire was not the work of an arsonist. Severe storms hit the region Tuesday night, and, according to CNN, investigators say lightning may have been responsible."

Maanvi says that this isn't the first time that Mount Zion AME burned — 20 years ago it was burned down by members of the Ku Klux Klan. When it reopened in 1996, President Bill Clinton spoke at the dedication ceremony.

As investigators looked into this fire, Maanvi reported that church fires aren't uncommon:

"According to a 2013 report from the National Fire Protection Association, there were an average of 1,780 fires per year at churches, mosques, temples and other religious buildings between 2007 and 2011. About 16 percent were intentionally set.

"There's a particular history of attacks, especially arson, against black congregations. The New York Times has compiled a list of black churches that were burned down over the past two decades, as has Mother Jones.

"On Tuesday, the NAACP urged congregations to take precautions. Twitter users are using the hashtag #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches to mourn and discuss this latest string of attacks on back congregations."

The Department of Justice has released a statement saying that a federal law enforcement team is investigating several church fires across five states in the last two weeks. Department spokesperson Melanie Newman said:

"Preliminary investigations indicate that two of the fires were started by natural causes and one was the result of an electrical fire. All of the fires remain under active investigation and federal law enforcement continues to work to determine the cause of all of the fires. To date the investigations have not revealed any potential links between the fires.

"If in fact there is evidence to support hate crime charges in any one of these cases, the FBI, in coordination with the ATF and local authorities, will work closely with the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorneys' Offices to bring those forward."

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