S. Carolina AME church destroyed by fire, authorities rule out arson

Mt. Zion AME, fire
Smoke rises from Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church late Tuesday, June 30, 2015 near Greeleyville, South Carolina. A federal official has ruled out arson for the cause of the blaze. At least three black churches in the south have been burned by arsonists since the Charleston shooting two weeks ago. (Veasey Conway/AP)

Greeleyville, S.C. — A federal investigation is underway following a fire at Mt. Zion AME church in Williamsburg County.

Both State Law Enforcement Divison of South Carolina (SLED) and The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are investigating.

Authorities say they received the call just before 9 PM Tuesday. Multiple fire agencies including Williamsburg County, Clarendon County, South Lynches Fire Departments responded to the blaze.

The Clarendon County Fire Department said shortly before midnight that the fire was under control.

A federal official says though the cause of Tuesday night’s fire has not been determined, arson has been ruled out.

Williamsburg County Fire Chief Randy Swinton says it wasn’t known whether the fire was the result of severe weather in the area at the time. He says the 8,000-square-foot church was completely destroyed.

Fires causing racial tension

Mount Zion, founded more than 110 years ago, was torched June 20, 1995, by two members of the Ku Klux Klan, who pleaded guilty the next year. President Bill Clinton attended the rededication of the rebuilt church a year later.

This is the seventh church fire across the south since the June 17 shooting at Emanuel AME Church, three in which have been attributed to arson. Those other church fires have been in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

The fires have fueled concerns about the potential for a new wave of racist violence since the AME Church shooting, and the FBI has launched an investigation.

This is a developing story.  We’ll have updates when more information is available.

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