Officials suspect arson in Chambers Co. church fires

By Lindsey Connell - bio | e-mail

CHAMBERS COUNTY, AL (WTVM) - A gaping shell is all that remains of the Union Hill CME and Liberty CME Church in northern Chambers County.

Fire swept thru both rural churches Saturday. Firefighters were called to Union Hill first around 4:00 a.m.

"While on the scene, we learned of a second church fire that occurred, as I understand, approximately seven miles from this location," said Alabama State Fire Marshal Ed Paulk.

Reverend Jimmy Carlisle, Pastor of Liberty CME Church, saw the blaze erupting from his church and immediately feared the worst.

"We saw fire. It was standing up real tall back up in the woods and I told my wife, I said, I pray to God that no one has set our church on fire and when we came down through here, the church was just in flames. I was really hurt," the reverend said.

Members of Liberty CME say they are in shock especially since their place worship has been the recent target of break-ins and vandalism.

Officials can't say the fires are arson at this point, but it's definitely not being ruled out.

"We don't know the cause of the fires yet. That's what we're looking for at this point in time. Although, we do find it highly suspicious that two fires occurred the same morning in such close proximity," Paulk added.

Both churches continue to smolder all day as investigators processed the scenes, searching for evidence.

For everyone involved, the charred remains of the churches were hard to handle.

"It pains me to see any fire but any time there's a fire that affects so many people in the community, it's a bad thing," said Paulk.

"Our heart goes out for Union Hills too. All of us are down in the spirit but we know all we have to do is just keep looking to the hills and we're just going to hold on and we aren't going to turn around and we are going to be strong in the Lord," Reverend Carlisle said.

Members of both churches are scheduled to meet with their bishop next week to find temporary locations to hold services.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Chambers County Sheriff's Department are assisting in the investigation.