By Paul Keane
The Wayne County News
A Tuesday night fire that damaged a church is being investigated as arson, with a reward being offered for information that leads to an arrest and conviction.
Around 11 p.m. Tuesday, firefighters responded to a fire at Hickory Grove Holiness Church, located at 872 Brewertown Road. Mulberry and Clara Stations responded, along with the Sand Hill VFD. Wayne County Fire Coordinator Rufus Landrum said county crews had some challenges reaching the church.
“We tried to go down U.S. Forestry Road 202, but it was rutted up so badly that we had to double back around,” he said. “We had to go out to Highway 63 and head south, then come back up Brewertown Road. That nearly doubled our response time.”
Landrum said Sand Hill arrived on the scene first and found smoke coming from the structure. A truck parked roughly 15 feet from the church was also on fire.
“The call was originally paged out as a truck fire,” Landrum said. “Dispatchers then informed us that the truck was next to the church, then came back on the radio again and said the church was on fire.”
Landrum said there were 14 different spots in and around the church, plus the truck, where it was obvious that a fire had been started. He added that many of the fires burned themselves out.
“There was one trash can, some pews and a vanity where we had to actually put out the fire,” he said. “Many of the fires simply burned themselves out. It was obvious that the fires were intentionally set. In some areas, especially with the vanity, you could smell and even see the accelerant that was used. It smelled like charcoal lighter fluid.”
The church did sustain damage in the blaze, especially with some pews in the sanctuary and to the vanity in a bathroom. Landrum said there were also signs that the church had been broken into.
Fire investigators were on the scene Wednesday morning trying to determine the exact cause of the blaze.
Landrum said that Wayne County Crime Stoppers will be offering a reward to anyone providing information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a suspect or suspects in this case. Callers can remain anonymous if they so desire.
To provide information to Crime Stoppers, call 601-735-5323.