The Jackson Church of God sustained $500,000 in damage after a Thursday morning fire. Federal and local investigators are now looking to determine the cause of the blaze.
Racially-motivated church fires have prompted the FBI and the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to respond to all church fires.
Local investigators say, as of Thursday evening, the fire appears to be an accident.
When the fire broke out, member Eric Copeland was one of the first to arrive. He says he was devastated by what he saw.
"It was a beautiful church inside," Copeland said.
He was devastated as a church member, witnessing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to his spiritual home. But Copeland was on the job.
"Sifting through the remains trying to find out what caused the fire," he said.
Copeland is the operations assistant chief for the Jackson Fire Department. He says the fire started around six in the morning in this room just behind a brand-new church sanctuary.
A quick response prevented the fire from spreading to the sanctuary -- but the brand-new worship space still has serious smoke and heat damage.
It was to be dedicated in a few weeks.
"And now it'll be probably another year," Copeland said.
Copeland was just looking for the cause of the blaze this time. Twenty years ago, a fire hit the same church. He was there fighting it.
"I got an adrenaline rush trying to do the impossible, save the unsavable," Copeland said.
With his personal connections to the church, Copeland is off the investigation. Fellow assistant chief Brian Thurston is now looking into the fire. He says doesn't believe it was set purposely.
"Leaning toward accidental fire but we can always be surprised, so we're not taking any chances," Thurston said.
Still, investigators from the FBI and the ATF have been called to the scene. They're called in for many church fires because of concerns over racially-motivated attacks. Local investigators emphasize they don't see anything suspicious.
"To the best of our knowledge no one has made any threats," Thurston said.
Jackson Fire officials say there's no timeline for when a final decision on the cause might be reached.
In the meantime, about 300 Church of God members will go without their home church.
"You're almost like a refugee at this point," Copeland said.
For now, members say other area churches have stepped in to help.
-- in Jackson, Tony Tagliavia News 10.