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Fire Destroys Churches in North Carolina, Georgia

June 17, 1996

ROCKY POINT, N.C. (AP) _ Flames destroyed a black church in southeastern North Carolina today, the second church fire in the state in less than two weeks. Authorities did not immediately know whether arson was the cause.

Also, a suspicious fire early today heavily damaged a former sanctuary at a church in Georgia with a primarily white congregation, authorities said.

Hills Chapel Baptist Church in Rocky Point was reported aflame at 1:24 a.m., said Earl Woodham, spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Charlotte.

More than seven hours later, the fire still was too hot to allow investigators to enter the building, Woodham said.

The church has a congregation of about 35 people, said the pastor, the Rev. W.G. Howard.

A fire June 6 destroyed an unused sanctuary at Matthews Murkland Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, about 190 miles northwest of Rocky Point. A 13-year-old white girl was charged in that blaze.

Investigators were also at the scene of a fire at Pine Lake Baptist Church in Pine Lake, Ga., on Atlanta’s eastern outskirts. That fire heavily damaged a former sanctuary that now houses administrative and educational offices. The main church building and new sanctuary were unharmed.

The fire apparently started on the building’s front porch, about the time a neighbor heard a loud stereo and a car speeding off, said Pine Lake police Sgt. Fred Stemp.

The neighbor then looked outside and saw the building on fire. ``The building went up pretty quickly,″ Stemp said.

DeKalb County Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Brown said the fire appeared to be suspicious and arson investigators were on the scene. But authorities said they did not link it to the more than 30 fires in the past 18 months at black churches across the Southeast. Most of the 1,000 or so in the congregation are white.

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