WASHINGTON, D.C.: Attorney General Janet Reno announced that the Justice Department is investigating a series of eight fires during the past year at small black churches in rural Alabama and Tennessee. In a January 29 letter to Reno, the NAACP had asked Reno to investigate, charging the frequency and similarity of the fires "make it difficult to rule out the likelihood that at least some of the fires were racially motivated acts of vandalism." "This certainly catches people's eyes here," says Atlanta Bureau chief Adam Cohen. "It's the kind of an issue that really resonates in the South, where a lot of black churches were burned during the civil rights movement in the 1960's. Southerners are certainly pleased with the decision to investigate, but it's too early to tell whether these burnings are part of any racially-motivated pattern."