RCMP are investigating after two churches were destroyed by fire Thursday night in Barrhead County.
First responders were called to the Glenreagh Church, located on Range Road 40, just before 8 p.m.
About an hour later, at 9 p.m., a second report came in about a fire at the United Church, also known as the Pioneer Church, on Range Road 54, also in Barrhead.
Firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the flames but RCMP said damage to both structures was extreme. Police also said after an initial investigation by the fire examiner, “it was determined that the fires were intentionally set.”
RCMP continue to investigate the cause of the fires but are treating both fires as arsons.
“Definitely, these are suspicious fires,” said Gary Hove, regional fire chief, with the Town of Barrhead. “The building has no utilities connected to it so there’s really nothing to start the fire with other than someone coming along and starting a fire.”
Hove said the age and wood structure of the Glenreagh Church, also known as St. Aiden’s Church, resulted in extensive damage to the exterior. There was smoke and water damage on the interior, including the pews. The fire chief said the two brass candleholders were stolen from the church, built in 1913, along with an offering bowl.
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“We were just making sure the fire was out here and then we received the call about the other church on fire,” Hove said. “We broke away the engine from this one but left a small crew here. The engine headed to the other fire, which had way more fire involvement.”
The second church was destroyed.
“It had already collapsed when we arrived on scene,” Hove said. “There wasn’t much for us to save, other than just put the fire out.”
Hove said the United Church had been moved several years ago to be saved for its historical value.
It’s believed both churches were over 100 years old.
The fire chief said both church were used for special events like weddings and funerals.
“My reaction is like all of the residents in the County of Barrhead: we’re shocked and appalled by this,” said Doug Drozd, reeve of the County of Barrhead. “It had a lot of people on edge last night.”
“The families that live around here have a clear attachment to these places. It’s a sad day.”
Lane said the United Church was built in 1913 and had been moved three times. At one point, it was located in town. The current location was where it was meant to remain.
“It was a beautiful little church,” Lane said. “There was nothing of value in it. It was a historical church with a lot of memories.”
No injuries were reported in either fire.
RCMP said an older model two-tone coloured truck was seen leaving the scene at the Glenreagh Church and is believed to be linked to the fires.
“I believe since 2018 we’ve had 13 church fires in Alberta and we do take these very seriously,” said RCMP Const. Kelsey Davidge. “We will investigate this as a criminal offence.”
Anyone with information is being asked to contact police or Crime Stoppers.