Police investigate 'suspicious fire' at historic Whitney church

Screenshot 2022-05-17 141815.jpg
Posted at 4:43 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 00:31:28-04

WHITNEY, Texas — Police are calling the Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Whitney a 'total loss' after a fire broke out Sunday night.

Several members of the community saw it all play out, including Joyce Ratcliff.

Ratcliff saw the fire from her home and quickly rushed to check on her family who lives down the street.

"When it first started it was like 'whoosh', then it kind of calmed down," she told 25 News of the experience. "When I got here it had calmed down, nothing like it was when I was at the house."

Ratcliff was the first to arrive around 10:30 Sunday night. She then called the police and other church go-ers.

The group watched as the only black church in Whitney and one of the first in the county burned right in front of them, taking roughly 150 years of history with it.

"Your heart is gone. It took a whole lot out of your heart to see history going down," one member of the church said. "That many years been standing there and you see that steeple fall, then all the rest of it burn. It took a lot out of a person."

There were no injuries but Whitney police call it a "suspicious fire".

"There were some concerns about the origin of the original fire," Police Chief Christopher Bentley said. "That brought about speculation."

The ATF is now helping the investigation. They were on the scene Tuesday looking for anything that could help figure out what sparked the flames..

"All of the ATF agents are fire investigators as well," Chief Bentley said. "They are all looking for some reason we might find the fire started. It could've been electrical, could've been cigarettes, it could've been anything. To see if any of those factors played into the actual fire itself."

Chief Bentley said they are looking at all possibilities and encourage people to come forward if they have any information.