Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

`Watch' Key to Prevent Church Fires

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

`Watch' Key to Prevent Church Fires

Article excerpt

Barely a day after the first confirmed arson at a black church

in Florida, state fire marshal Bill Nelson met with Jacksonville

ministers yesterday and urged them to start a "church-watch"

program that might save black churches from a similar fate.

Nelson said state officials want to get the word out to rural

churches. He said he chose Jacksonville as a pulpit to urge

people to keep their eyes open and share information.

"If this problem is going to become a plague in Florida, then

we can nip it in the bud right here in Jacksonville," Nelson

said.

"We're starting a statewide effort to inform pastors of

predominantly rural African-American churches of the practical

types of things they can do to prevent this deplorable crime

that seems to be going on throughout the country," he said. "It

has now come to Florida."

He said investigators determined yesterday that a fire at a

Marianna church was not vandalism, but arson. The fire was

started when someone doused paper and at least one of the church

pews with gasoline, Nelson said.

The fire extinguished and an associate pastor found the

building full of smoke and the odor of gasoline when he arrived

Wednesday.

He said test results should tell more Monday.

Nelson told the ministers the Marianna fire could not be tied

to arson at more than 30 black churches in the South.

Jacksonville's black clergy said they would be cautious but

were not panicking.

"We took that as we took everything else," said the Rev. Fred

Newbill, pastor of First Timothy Baptist Church. …

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