PORTLAND, Maine — The pastor of a local church damaged by an early-morning fire Sunday said she believes the fire was set because of a Black Lives Matter sign in the window.
Pastor Lorraine Kardash of the Portland New Church on Stevens Avenue said the sign was in a window next to the area burned in the fire and was later found under a bush.
"So we kind of think that that had something to do with the fire," she said Monday.
In a Facebook post Sunday, church leaders called the fire arson and said "speculation about the motive is fueled by the fact that the Black Lives Matter sign that was hanging outside by the door is now gone ... We are saddened and angered by this hateful act."
Firefighters were called just before 2 a.m. to the church at 302 Stevens Ave., and the first crews at the scene arrived to find at least one neighbor using buckets of water to try to extinguish the flames, Portland Fire Dept. Capt. John Brennan said.
Firefighters checked the older building to ensure nothing was smoldering, he said.
Portland police and fire are investigating the fire, along with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which he said assists with all investigations into fires at houses of worship.
Kardash said church leaders plan to hold a picnic on Oct. 10 for the interfaith community, police and fire personnel, and neighbors, to help them "band together."