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Suspicious Fire List Hits 50 With Attempt in Gainesville

November 12, 1991

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ A minor fire that burned itself out before being discovered today brought to 50 the number of suspicious church fires reported in the past 19 months in Florida.

Workers at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Gainesville discovered minor damage when they arrived at the church at 8:40 a.m. today, said Stuart Schwartz, a spokesman for the Gainesville Fire-Rescue Department.

Local, federal and state investigators already checking into 49 other church blazes in Florida quickly went to the scene.

Schwartz described the fire as suspicious in nature, but authorities did not immediately determine if it is connected to any the previous fires.

The fire comes on the heels of a blaze that destroyed Gainesville’s Westwood Hills Church of God on Monday.

Damage to the two-story structure was estimated today at between $750,000 and $1 million, Schwartz said.

″You know whoever did has to be an instrument in the hands of Satan,″ the Rev. Ronald Peeples said Monday after surveying the damage with investigators at the Westwood Hills Church of God.

Just down the street from Peeples’ church are the blackened walls of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, which was burned Oct. 22.

Last week, officials had put the number of suspecious church fires since July 1990 as fewer than 30. But over the weekend authorities revised the figure to include new information on fires as far back as April 1990.

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