Edmonton police investigate suspicious fire at church in Highlands
A fire that broke out just before preschool students were set to arrive at the Highlands United Church Friday morning is being treated as suspicious, the Edmonton Police Service confirmed, adding the arson unit is handling the investigation.
Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said they were called to the church, which is located at 113 Avenue and 64 Street, at 8:39 a.m.
“One person was in the building at the time and got out before fire crews got on scene,” a fire spokesperson said in an email. “Fire crews were able to contain the fire to the building.”
By 9:20 a.m., the blaze was under control.
Melanie Harmsma, who works at a preschool that operates out of the church, said she was the person who first called 911 to report a possible break and enter at the church. She said it was only later she noticed a fire had broken out as well.
“[I] heard some thumping and poked my head out of my preschool door which was in the basement of the church,” Harmsma said. “[I] saw someone leaving the church — someone unfamiliar — and I went to pursue him but I was nervous so I locked the door actually to shut myself in.
“While I was on the phone with police talking about how I had seen someone potentially breaking into the church… I noticed orange in the window of the church and there was a fire.”
According to Harmsma, 16 preschool students were set to arrive shortly after the fire broke out. She said the preschool, which has operated out of the church for about 30 years, appeared to have sustained significant water damage.
“Water destroys so I anticipate it will be a long cleanup,” she said.
Harmsma added she has had lots of offers for help since people learned what happened and that she hopes to have a new temporary location for the preschool arranged in time for Monday.
David Brooks walked by the church on Friday to see the damage for himself. He said he’s been attending for over 70 years.
“This is a blow to the community, definitely,” he said.
“It’s receded in attendees in the last few years but it’s still, I think, a big part of the community. There’s other events that happen here too.”
A fire department spokesperson said it had yet to determine an estimate for the damage to the church.
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