Arson suspected in 2 Mohave County church fires

Posted at 5:05 AM, Sep 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-29 08:05:18-04

The pastor of one of two churches damaged or destroyed in simultaneous fires in a rural northwestern Arizona community said his congregation is unbowed and that the house of worship will be rebuilt. 

"We will not quit," said the Rev. Rex Austin of the nondenominational Mt. Tipton Community Church in Dolan Springs. "We're going to come up, not down."

Austin's church was destroyed Saturday evening, while the nearby Dolan Springs Baptist Church was heavily damaged. No one was inside either church when the fires started, and no injuries have been reported.

Fire officials called the fires suspicious, but the Mohave County Sheriff's Office declined Monday to discuss its investigation, including whether arson has been ruled out. Mohave County Silent Witness is offering a $750 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for the fires.

Austin, who was out of state when the fires occurred, said hearing of the fire was like learning of a death in the family.

He said churches in the community of about 2,000 residents have close relations, cooperating on programs for the needy and hosting rotating gatherings.

The Lake Mohave Ranchos Fire Department and other crews helped fight the fires.

Some of the initial responders worked to keep the Mt. Tipton church's fire from spreading, while others fought to put out the Baptist church's fire.

On Sunday, members of the Baptist church sat on metal chairs on the lawn, in the shade, outside their church's fire-charred and smoke-damaged building, the Kingman Daily Miner ( reported.

Members said they believed they witnessed a miracle because five wooden crosses inside the church weren't damaged by the fire.

"The Bible caught on fire, but the cross didn't," Pastor Chris Zeller said.

Members of Austin's church met Sunday at the community center, listening to member Georgie Dupree deliver a sermon in the pastor's absence,

Dupree said she decided before the fire to speak about the tenacity of Moses, and how God opens doors, some with more force than others.

"God uses a sledgehammer and an ax," she said, exhorting fellow worshippers to stay strong like Moses. "Eight times did he go up that mountain."