- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 21, 2010

TYLER, Texas — Two arrests were made early Sunday in a series of east Texas church fires that authorities believe were intentionally set, a fire official said.

Tyler Fire Chief Neal Franklin declined to offer further details on the arrests. Tom Crowley, Dallas spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange declined to comment before an afternoon news conference that was scheduled in Tyler.

Authorities believe nine east Texas church fires have been set deliberately since Jan. 1. Officials say a 10th fire, about 120 miles south of Dallas in Temple, also was arson.

The two most recent fires happened with an hour and three miles of each other on Feb. 8 in a rural area near Tyler, about 90 miles east of Dallas.

That outbreak led agents with the ATF to declare that they thought all the eastern Texas church fires were the work of one serial arsonist or one group of arsonists.

No injuries have been reported.

The first fire believed to be arson broke out Jan. 1 in Athens, about 30 miles southwest of Tyler. Two more Athens church fires 10 days later sparked an arson investigation. Four fires in five days soon followed — three in or near Tyler and the other in Temple.

There was a lull of nearly three weeks before the most recent fires.

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