The predominantly black Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina was purposely set alight on Wednesday, according to authorities, who are now investigating whether the act of arson was a hate crime.
"We completed our work on the scene and determined this was intentionally set," Charlotte Fire Department Senior Fire Investigator David Williams told Reuters.
Locals called 911 around 1am on Wednesday to report flames had engulfed the church. More than 75 firefighters quickly arrived at the scene. The fire, which caused more than $250,000 in damage, took about an hour and 15 minutes to put out, according to reports. No civilians were hurt, but two firefighters had to be treated for heat-related injuries, Williams said.
No suspects have been named, and authorities are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime, WBTV reported.
"Anytime anybody sets any kind of structure on fire that's disturbing," Charlotte Fire Department Public Information Manager Cynthia Robbins Shah-Khan told The Washington Post. "But as of today we don't have any information one way or the other. The investigators are just going to be following the leads and seeing where it takes them."
The church, dating back to 1951, was predominantly white for three decades until the area's demographics changed, along with that of the church's congregation.
"When I got here I was even amazed to see that the flames were so high," Pastor Mannix Kinsey told WBTV. "I am thinking, 'Oh my goodness, this church is going to be destroyed.'"
Kinsey said that the church has already forgiven the perpetrator: "Honestly I can speak for this church," the pastor said, "That we've already forgiven them and we want to move forward. And we are hoping this is an opportunity for Christ to show himself in their hearts."
It was one week ago that 21-year-old white man Dylann Roof, who had a manifesto loaded with hateful language toward blacks, killed nine African-American congregants who were attending a bible study at the historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Kinsey said he hopes that the crime was not linked to hate, especially considering the current "climate."
"And we are still talking about this same issue, and this is 2015," the pastor said. "We all have to consider what else do we need to do to actually be able to work."