WILLIAMSBURG COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Officials with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division say the cause of the fire that destroyed the Mt. Zion AME church in Williamsburg County was natural in nature.
SLED investigators said there was no indication of criminal intent in the Tuesday night fire at the traditionally black church on Mackey Road in Greeleyville.
"Based upon the scene examination, the fire debris analysis, witness statements and a lightning strike report, the cause of the fire was best classified as natural," read a statement by SLED."Investigators observed no indicator of criminal intent. The investigation is complete."
SLED agents responded to the scene of the fire at the request of the Williamsburg County Fire Department.
According to a report, SLED, along with investigators from the Williamsburg County Sheriff's Office and the ATF processed the scene and submitted evidence to SLED's forensic laboratory.
The fire broke out at about 8:30 p.m. and took more than two hours to put out; the blaze was classified as a three-alarm fire and required about 45 firefighters to bring under control.
Surrounding agencies from Clarendon, South Lynch, Kingstree and Berkeley County assisted with putting the fire out.
Authorities say the 8,000 square foot church was a total loss.A firefighter was transported to the hospital for heat exhaustion but was treated and released.
Church officials say they will be creating a fund at a bank soon to receive donations to help rebuild the church.
A member of the church said this is the second fire at the church since 1995, when the KKK set fire to the old building.
Authorities said the fire at Mt. Zion AME was the seventh church fire in the South since the downtown Charleston church shooting which took the lives of nine people.
The Justice Department released the following statement on Thursday regarding the recent church fires across five states:
"The federal law enforcement team of ATF, FBI, the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys' Offices are actively investigating several church fires across five states that have occurred over the past two weeks. 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."