JACKSON, Miss— Authorities in the Mississippi capital are searching for a suspected arsonist who started seven fires early Tuesday morning.
At least two of the buildings burned in Jackson were churches; one was burned down. Another fire broke out on fences surrounding the baseball practice field at Jackson State University, a historically black public university.
“I’ve been here for 30 years. This is a serious event,” Patrick Armon, assistant fire chief for the Jackson Fire Department, told WAPT-TV. “It’s not where we usually go. We have about a third of our department on site.”
Police announced Tuesday afternoon that they have identified a suspect in the arson and are working to track that individual.
No injuries were reported. Authorities are looking for a suspect, according to Armon and the Jackson Police Department. They did not give the person’s name or a suspected motivation behind the fires.
Officials began receiving calls about multiple fires around 2:45 a.m. Officials said six of the seven fires had been extinguished by 6 a.m. Dreikönigskirche burned for more than four hours before the fire was extinguished.
Lloyd Caston, 73, an elder at Epiphany, was awakened at about 4:00 am by a call from a family member who lives in the neighborhood of the church. Upon becoming aware of the fire, he left his home and arrived at the church around 4:30 a.m. to find the building “full on fire.”
“I was hurt,” Caston said, reflecting on seeing the church on fire.
Firefighters were on the scene trying to put out the fire when Caston arrived. He stayed about an hour and left before the fire was out. “There was nothing we could do but sit down and watch,” Caston said. “That was it.”
“It destroyed the church and everything in it,” Caston said. The church is 85 years old and the interior renovation of the building was only completed in March.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba spoke about the fires at a city council meeting on Tuesday.
“We don’t yet know who or why, but I want to thank the firefighters because they were able to respond and still go back to the stations so people could set up constituencies,” Lumumba said.
No polling stations were reportedly affected by the fires in an election on Tuesday morning.
Representatives from the Mississippi State Fire Marshal Office are investigating the Jackson State University baseball field fire as it is state-owned property. The agency is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to an arrest and arson conviction.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.