Two churches in East Texas that were damaged by fires this week were the victims of arson, authorities said Thursday.
That makes Dover Baptist Church and Clear Spring Missionary Church near Tyler, Texas, the ninth and tenth churches to have been deliberately burned this year in the Lone Star State.
Authorities have credited eight other Texas church fires this year to arson – seven in eastern Texas and one in central Texas. Despite their determinations, authorities are still, however, unsure whether a serial arsonist or group of arsonists is behind the burnings.
"All we can say right now is that with these two fires, with everything going on in East Texas, it's probably going to be related," said Clay Alexander, head of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office in Tyler, Texas, to KYTX-TV.
In the latest burnings, which occurred Monday night, Dover Baptist and Clear Spring Missionary were set ablaze less than an hour apart. Dover Baptist was set on fire at around 8:45 p.m., and Clear Springs Missionary, less than three miles away, was burning by 9:20 p.m.
While no one was inside the buildings at the time, both churches were destroyed.
Pastor Carl Samples of Dover Baptist Church, which had just completed interior renovation, said he "can't comprehend how anyone would do the Lord's house this way."
Brandon Owens, pastor of Clear Springs Missionary, meanwhile, said his congregation plans to hold Sunday worship service at another location.
"I will be preaching," Owens told The Associated Press. "We will be OK. We'll still be going."
Since late December, there have been eleven church fires in Texas.
On Tuesday, the Texas Department of public safety increased the reward money for information on the church burnings from $10,000 to $25,000.