Dec. 28 (UPI) -- An early morning, two-alarm fire at a Black church in western Massachusetts is being investigated as arson and is "highly suspicious," fire officials said Monday.
Springfield firefighters were summoned to the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church about 5 a.m. on Monday, Springfield Fire Commissioner Bernard Calvi said. The fire was put out in about an hour, but the church is significantly damaged and unusable, he said.
"There have been several nuisance fires in that neighborhood that we've been looking into," Calvi said Monday. "This morning's fire is highly suspicious. ... It's a church that burned at nighttime, so it's a potential hate crime," Calvi said.
"At this time, we have not identified anybody, but any help the community could give would be greatly appreciated," he added.
A $5,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of anyone involved with the fire, which is being investigated by the city's arson and bomb squad, state police investigators from the fire marshal's office and agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"It's terrible that someone tried to burn down Martin Luther King Community Presbyterian Church," Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno said Monday. "It looks to be an arson type of situation and we are reviewing cameras."
The fire caused about $100,000 worth of smoke and water damage, spokesman Capt. Drew Piemonte said Monday. Firefighters cut a hole in the roof, which had just been replaced by the congregation last week, Piemonte said.
The church building, used by the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church since 1979, was built in 1950. The congregation has about 50 members, WWLP reported.