State police in South Carolina have said that a church fire at the predominantly black Mount Zion Methodist Episcopal Church on Tuesday was started by natural causes and was not linked to the string of fires at black churches in the U.S. since the Charleston church shooting in June, according to Reuters. The church is in Greeleyville, a small town to the northwest of Charleston, where a white man shot and killed nine black churchgoers on June 17.
“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,” the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division wrote in a statement. “Investigators observed no indicator of criminal intent. The investigation is complete.”
The fire was one of at least six fires at black churches across the U.S. since the shooting. The FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms confirmed that they were investigating the fires on Sunday. There have been fires at black churches in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio and two in North Carolina.
â€” Melissa Boughton (@mboughtonPC) July 1, 2015
The Greeleyville fire holds particular significance. In June of 1995, the church was burned down in an apparent act of racist hatred. Two members of the Ku Klux Klan were later charged for the burning. A year later President Bill Clinton attended the rededication of the church to call on the nation to “speak up” against the racism in the country.
The 1995 burning resulted in a House Judiciary Committee hearing to discuss the high number of church burnings that year, according to a recent report on Mount Zion AME by the Los Angeles Times in the aftermath of the Charleston shooting.
“This year alone there have been 21 church fires involving African American churches,” said former Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee at the time, before saying that the fires seemed to be racially motivated.
The fires come in light of the June 17 shooting in which a 21-year-old suspected gunman entered a predominantly black church in Charleston and sat with a church group for an hour before methodically killing nine black people. The suspected shooter, it was later discovered, had indicated on his personal website that he wanted to incite a ‘race war’ in the country.