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Sacramento Church Fire Found to Be Arson

September 11, 1996| From a Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Federal officials said Tuesday that a midnight blaze that destroyed a predominantly black church in Sacramento was deliberately set, making it the latest in a recent rash of arson fires at churches across the country.

It appeared to be the first such attack in California.

Dogs trained to sniff out suspicious elements "hit on numerous locations where more than likely some kind of a flammable was used" to torch the small neighborhood church, said Pete Urrea, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

Most of the New Home Missionary Baptist Church was burned to the ground around midnight Sunday, leaving its 200 parishioners with no house of worship. Margaret Ware, chairwoman of a now-abandoned church expansion project, said, "All we can do is forgive whoever did it."

Urrea said 17 agents from his department and several from the FBI will conduct an open-ended investigation, taking as long as was necessary to find the arsonists.

Agencies and groups keeping tabs on arson and hate crimes said they knew of no torching of a black church in California in recent years. The Los Angeles Fire Department has set up a House of Worship Arson Task Force as a precaution but no outright arson attack with possible racial motives has occurred, said Battalion Chief Terry Manning, head of the task force.

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