A June 23 fire at God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon that is being actively investigated as arson, as well as a number of other recent fires targeting churches in South Carolina and Tennessee, has the Georgia Arson Control Board (GAC) asking for the public’s help.
“Not only do fire investigators and law enforcement need the community’s assistance in solving crimes of arson, but with the proper information and vigilance, the public can even prevent arsons,” said Georgia Arson Control’s Jim Beck.
According to GAC, motives to set church arson fires run the gamut from concealment of a crime, vandalism, spite or revenge, and/or racial hatred. Arson is, however, not just a regional problem. It is a national problem that damages neighborhoods, threatens lives and costs billions of dollars. Arson can be prevented when people join together and report suspicious activity.
“Places of worship provide thieves a tempting target because facilities are often unoccupied for long periods of time and the times that a church is in use is very predictable,” said Beck.
Additionally, churches are often an easy target for arsonists since many are located in isolated areas and are constructed of wood and even furnished with wooden pews. The Georgia Arson Control Program, Inc. (GAC) was formed in January of 1979 by property and casualty insurers writing business in Georgia. GAC, Georgia Department of Insurance and Safety Fire, and state/local law enforcement agencies, established an Arson Hotline 1-800-282-5804. A reward fund was initiated from which monetary rewards of up to $10,000 are given to individuals who come forward with information that results in the arrest and conviction of arsonists.
“Our churches should be a place of refuge from the sinful world we live in and for a criminal to target the sanctity of a church is despicable,” Jim Beck said. It is important to remain vigilant using the following life-saving tips which could make a big difference in protecting houses of religious worship as well as save lives.
Prevent church arson – Life saving tips
1) Illuminate the church exterior and entrances. Use motion-activated lighting near doors and windows.
2) Proper landscaping can help create a crime-free environment. Keep shrubbery and trees trimmed so the building can be observed by passing patrols.
3) Use adequate locks and security devices on doors and windows.
4) Communicate with law enforcement and fire officials about concerns regarding arson and other crimes.
5) Appoint a person from the church to work as a liaison with these authorities.
6) Promote a neighborhood arson and crime watch to report suspicious activity.
7) Keep church leaders and members informed of concerns and activities.
8) Keep boxes, trash, wood and other combustibles away from the building.
9) Install smoke alarms on every level of the building and test the batteries once a month.
For more information on how you can help prevent fire deaths, please contact your local fire department, a non-emergency number or visit georgiaarsoncontrol.com or call GAC at 1-800-342-9607.