Greenville church fire test results lead to more questions

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Carpet samples taken from the burned remains of Hopewell Baptist Church in Greenville tested negative for flammable substances, according to fire Chief Ruben Brown on Friday.

Initial testing at the scene had led investigators to believe the church fire, which erupted on Nov. 1 around 9 p.m., could have been started with an accelerant. But results from the state crime lab have ruled that out, officials said Saturday.

Still, Brown said that investigators from the police department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Fire and the FBI have no reason to assume the fire was an accident.

“Fire can be (started) intentionally without a flammable substance like fuel or lighter (fluids),” Brown said in an email Saturday.

Last week’s fire at Hopewell Baptist Church launched national headlines after first responders discovered the words “Vote Trump” on the side of the building. Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons announced the next morning that the FBI would be investigating the fire as a hate crime.

Brown said that another item collected at the scene will be tested by the state crime lab next week but would not provide any other information on what that item is.

A GoFundMe online fundraising campaign resulted in donations for church repairs totaling $257,467 by Saturday afternoon. That sum came from more than 7,000 individual donations from every state and the District of Columbia and 29 countries, according to Katherine Cichy, a GoFundMe spokeswoman.