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Religious Leaders Discuss Arson at Goldsboro Conference

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GOLDSBORO — One of the most lethal weapons in the hands of a criminal is a match. Reports of arson related fires are on the way down, but several recent church fires in North Carolina have raised concerns. A two day conference in Goldsboro is designed to help make arson, especially in houses of worship, even more rare.

"To me, arson is a particularly vicious and cowardly crime. You can't lock out smoke and fire," said Erin Conklin, an arson victim.

Erin Conklin just barely survived an arsonist's attack on her Asheville apartment building almost 4 years ago.

"I couldn't exit through my door, so I ended up hanging out my window and burning my hands. I fell 27 feet to the concrete below and also broke my neck," Conklin explained.

The two day seminar on arson and fire prevention is the first of its kind in eastern North Carolina. It was inspired partly by the frequency of arson aimed at houses of worship.

"The person that sets a fire to a church, I consider a dangerous person. For one reason, if he doesn't fear God, he surely doesn't fear me or the law enforcement or anybody," said Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders.

Winders advises religious leaders to work closely with law enforcement officers and to take steps to improve the security of their own houses of worship.

Reverend William Barber of Goldsboro says it's just as important for religious leaders to work closely with each other before and even after an arsonist hits.

"Theologically we differ. But on the issue of our churches and our houses of worship, they all need to be respected as sacred places," Barber said.

Arson is the second leading cause of residential fire deaths. Fifty-five percent of arson fires are set by juveniles.