The Mt. Zion AME Church in Williamsburg County, South Carolina is on fire and the roof has collapsed, according to local reports. Emergency crews are at the scene fighting the blaze.
It’s currently unknown how the fire began, but local WCSC reported that officials received a call about it around 9 pm. The church is located on Mackey Road in Greeleyville.
The fire is under control, according to the Clarendon County Fire Department. However, the church itself was severely damaged.
“The building collapsed,” Fire fighter Jason Hardy of Clarendon County told the Huffington Post. “Only the outer shell is left. Just brick standing.”
This is the second time the church has caught fire. The last time was in 1995, when it was burned to the ground by former Ku Klux Klan members. In 1996, President Bill Clinton attended the dedication ceremony for the new church that was built in the aftermath.
“My prayer is that we’re not having a repeat,”Rev. Nelson Rivers told ABC News 4. “But we’re not going to take chances and we are plotting where the churches have burned so far, reaching out to the pastors and the congregations, and also talking to the authorities in those areas to see what they think.”
Mark Keel of the State Law Enforcement Division told the Post and Courier that authorities have notified the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives about the situation.
He also said the fire could have been caused by lightning from a storm that had just passed through the county, but an investigation into the incident would not be able to commence until after the flames had been doused.
Asked about the possibility of it being related to other recent fires at black churches, he said, “Certainly, I think we all are concerned about those things.”
Mt. Zion AME is now the seventh church to catch fire since 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people in Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel AME Church. State and federal officials are looking into the blazes, some of which may be classified as hate crimes.
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