Arson ruled out after South Carolina black church destroyed

Smoke rises from Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal church near Greeleyville, S.C., which caught fire Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Firefighters are trying to extinguish the blaze at the prominent black church. (Veasey Conway/The Morning News via AP)

(NEWS2) – A federal investigation is underway following a fire at Mt. Zion AME church in Williamsburg County.

Both State Law Enforcement Divison of South Carolina (SLED) and The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are investigating.

Authorities received the call just before 9pm. Multiple fire agencies including Williamsburg County, Clarendon County, South Lynches Fire Departments responded to the blaze.

The Clarendon County Fire Department said shortly before midnight that the fire was under control.

According to The Associated Press, a federal official said though the cause of Tuesday night’s fire has not been determined, arson has been ruled out.

Williamsburg County Fire Chief Randy Swinton said it wasn’t known whether the fire was the result of severe weather in the area at the time. He said the 8,000-square-foot church was completely destroyed.

Mount Zion, founded more than 110 years ago, was torched June 20, 1995, by two members of the Ku Klux Klan, who pleaded guilty the next year. President Bill Clinton attended the rededication of the rebuilt church a year later.

This is the seventh church fire across the south since the June 17 shooting at Emanuel AME Church, three in which have been attributed to arson. Those other church fires have been in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

The fires have fueled concerns about the potential for a new wave of racist violence since the AME Church shooting, and the FBI has launched an investigation.

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