CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Arson fires early Sunday caused about $500,000 in damage to the inside of the largest Mormon church building in Charlotte, authorities said.
More than 20 small fires were set inside the University City church, and officials said the damage could delay use of the building for about six months. No injuries were reported.
Authorities had no suspects and were unsure if the fires were a hate crime. They declined to release specific information about the fires.
“We’re still exploring the motivation behind the whole thing, but at this point of time, we just don’t know,” said Chief Fire Investigator David Lowery.
Church officials said they had not received any threats or hate mail and weren’t sure why the church was attacked, said Randy Sigg, a lay church leader.
“There was no writing on walls saying anything to indicate that a church – or our church – was targeted,” Sigg said, adding that he believed the crime was random.
Investigators indicated the fires were “amateurish,” with one fire set by piling napkins and other paper on top of a kitchen stove and turning on a burner to light the paper, according to Sigg.
The fires set off sprinklers inside the building and firefighters received an alarm signal at 2:39 a.m., said Charlotte fire Capt. Rob Brisley.
Fire officials said the fires were quickly extinguished.
Sigg said church members are not sure what to think about the incident.
“They tried to do as much damage as they possibly could,” said Ted Ahern, a church member. “Starting a fire is one thing. Doing as much damage as possible is another.”
Church fires in Charlotte are rare, officials said. The National Coalition for Burned Churches and Community Empowerment estimates there are 15-20 church fires a month in the U.S.
Three college students were charged this month related to a string of rural Alabama church fires.