TEMPLE, Texas (ABP) -- Investigators said Jan. 29 that a fire that gutted the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Temple, Texas, on Jan. 19 was set deliberately. The case is now being treated as a criminal investigation.
Pastor Martin Knox called the arson ruling "extremely sad news for our congregation."
"This information will create a range of emotions for all of us," he said in a statement to church members. "It saddens me to have to inform you of this, I am personally very shocked."
The fire destroyed the sanctuary and an adjoining building that contained the church's offices, music rooms and some classrooms. In addition, all of the other church buildings connected to the sanctuary suffered smoke and water damage.
Among the irreplaceable items lost in the blaze is the sanctuary's 2,675-pipe organ.
The ATF is also investigating a string of church fires set in east Texas since Jan. 1.