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Authorities Rule Out Arson In Fire At Mt. Zion AME Church In South Carolina

A fire destroyed the prominent black church in Greeleyville, South Carolina, Tuesday night. Investigators now say the blaze was not a case of arson.

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Updated on

The fire that destroyed a predominantly black South Carolina church on Tuesday was sparked by natural causes, investigators say.

Thom Berry, a spokesman for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, told BuzzFeed News that investigators classified the fire that gutted Mt. Zion AME Church in Greeleyville as "natural" on Thursday.

That classification rules out arson, as well as fires started accidentally by people. A statement released by SLED adds that there was no indication that "criminal intent" was involved in the blaze.

Neither Berry nor the statement said what exactly the caused the blaze. However, Berry said the "natural" classification includes weather-related causes.

The statement adds that people in the area saw lightning strikes before the church burned. A meteorologist with the National Weather Service confirmed to BuzzFeed News that there had been lightning in the area at the time, and Jason Hardy, a firefighter in neighboring Clarendon County told BuzzFeed News a "pretty good" storm went through the area just before the fire broke out.

The investigation is now finished, Berry said.

Pic by Cheryl Oliver of fire at Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, 60 miles north of Charleston. #ChurchFires

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The blaze erupted after a string of church fires across the south.

Police believe fires at predominantly black churches in Knoxville, Tennessee, Macon, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina, were set by arsonists. Both the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms were investigating the fires to determine both the culprits and their motives.

However, other fires in places such as Tennessee, Florida, and Ohio are not considered suspicious.

In a statement issued Friday, Justice Department spokesperson Melanie Newman said investigators have not found any links between the fires. Two of the fires investigated by the FBI were sparked by natural causes, and a third was an electrical fire, Newman added.

@rolandsmartin I'm here on site right now. #BlackLivesMatter

Mt. Zion AME Church was previously burned in 1995 by two Ku Klux Klan members.

Two self-described members of the KKK eventually admitted to starting the fire.

The church gained further national attention in 1996 when President Bill Clinton toured the site.

Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Jim Dalrymple II at jim.dalrymple@buzzfeed.com.

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