by Max Brantley
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms announced today it was investigating the fire that destroyed the First Baptist Church of Highland Park last Sunday. Damage was estimated at $1.5 million.
The church pastor told Channel 4 the day of the fire that the burglary alarm at the church went off shortly before the early morning fire. But those might have been security alarms also rigged to serve as smoke detectors.
LITTLE ROCK, ARK. — The National Response Team (NRT) of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) along with special agents from the New Orleans Field Division have been activated to join the investigation of a fire that destroyed the First Baptist Church at Highland Park, 3800 West 18th Street, Little Rock, Arkansas. Structural damage to the church is estimated at $1.5 million.
“ATF is investigating the fire jointly with the Little Rock Fire Department, Arkansas State Fire Marshal’s Office, and the Arkansas State Police to determine the origin and cause of the fire”, said Phillip Durham, ATF special agent in charge of the New Orleans Field Division. “This is a devastating loss for the community.”
In 1978, ATF developed the NRT to bring its expertise to federal, state and local investigators in meeting the challenges faced at the scenes of significant explosives and arson incidents. The NRT consists of four teams organized geographically to cover the United States. Each team can respond within 24 hours to assist state and local law enforcement/fire service personnel in onsite investigations.
The teams are each composed of veteran special agents who have post-blast and fire origin-and-cause expertise; forensic chemists; explosives enforcement officers; fire protection engineers; accelerant detection canines; explosives detection canines; intelligence support, computer forensic support and audit support. The team work alongside state and local officers in reconstructing the scene, identifying the seat blast or origin of the fire, conducting interviews,
and sifting through debris to obtain evidence related to the bombing/arson.
Further complementing the teams’ efforts are technical, legal and intelligence advisers. Moreover, a fleet of fully equipped response vehicles strategically located throughout the United States is available to provide logistical support.
This is the 7th NRT activation in FY 2013 and the 743rd since the inception of the NRT.
In addition to investigating hundreds of scenes, the NRT has also been activated to scenes such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Oklahoma City federal building bombing and Sept. 11, 2001, Pentagon crash site, as well as blasts at explosives and ammunition manufacturing plants, legal fireworks factories and illegal explosives device manufacturing operations.