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Fire at Black Church Ruled Arson

July 8, 1996

GRAHAM, Wash. (AP) _ An arson fire caused about $80,000 worth of damage to a black church over the weekend, authorities said.

There were signs of forced entry through one of the windows of the Pleasant Hills Missionary Baptist Church, said Curt Benson, a spokesman for the Pierce County sheriff’s office.

The fire was set late Saturday or early Sunday, Benson said.

The Rev. Forrest Hudson discovered the damage when he arrived to open the building for Sunday school, firefighter Marc McIlrath said.

Hudson told investigators no threats had been made against the church in this rural community 38 miles south of Seattle.

The FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were investigating, but there was no immediate evidence the blaze was racially motivated, Benson said.

A young man who answered the telephone at Hudson’s house and identified himself as Hudson’s son said his father had gone out for a while because he was upset about the fire.

Sunday’s blaze was one of at least three church fires in the Pacific Northwest in the past several weeks.

Last month, a fire did $20,000 damage to the Eritrean Community Center in Seattle. The center is part of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, which serves a segment of Seattle’s black community.

Church leaders have said they don’t think the Seattle fire was racially motivated.

Also in June, an arson fire burned the Immanuel Christian Fellowship, a predominantly black church in Portland, Ore. That fire is under investigation.

More than 40 churches, mainly in Southern states and with predominantly black congregations, have been damaged or destroyed by fire in the past 18 months.

Federal officials also are investigating a number of suspicious fires that burned churches with majority white congregations during the same time period.

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