Arson May Be Cause of Texas Church Blaze

The fire that destroyed a south Arlington church building last week may have been intentionally set, an official said Monday.

Investigators have eliminated electrical wiring or accelerants as causes of the May 2 blaze at The Church on Rush Creek, fire investigator Keith Ebel said.

About 15 teen-agers, who were having a youth-group meeting in the former sanctuary, escaped unharmed after they smelled smoke and alarms sounded.

The building was used for children's services, administrative offices and a food pantry. Estimates place the damage to the building at $1.8 million.

The original sanctuary for the 1,300-member Baptist church was built in 1985.

Ebel said authorities have opened a criminal investigation. The fire always looked suspicious, but investigators waited for a study by electrical engineers and the results of chemical analysis before proceeding, Ebel said.

"We didn't want to turn a congregation upside down," Ebel said. "We waited until we were absolutely sure there was cause."

The Rev. Russ Barksdale's assistant, Shelly Ramsey, answered his cellphone Monday night and said the church's pastor was out of town.

"We're as shocked as anyone else that anyone could have done this," Ramsey said. "We'll let the investigation run its course and we'll cooperate fully."

Distributed by the Associated Press