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South Okanagan church fires: RCMP reviewing video of dark-coloured truck leaving scene

Click to play video: 'Evidence of an accelerant found at church fire scene in South Okanagan.' Evidence of an accelerant found at church fire scene in South Okanagan.
Evidence of an accelerant found at church fire scene in South Okanagan – Jun 22, 2021

As two South Okanagan communities continue to reel after suspicious overnight fires destroyed two Catholic churches, police are reviewing video footage of a dark-coloured truck attending and leaving the scene prior to one fire starting.

The truck is seen leaving the Sacred Heart Church on Penticton Indian band lands early Monday.

The 110-year-old church burned to the ground.

Read more: 2 churches on reserve land destroyed by fire in South Okanagan

“Unfortunately, the quality of the video at this time does not allow us to identify the make or model,” said RCMP Sgt. Jason Bayda, spokesperson for both the Oliver and Penticton detachments.

“But typically what we do in this kind of situation is send it to our forensic analyst to see if that video can be enhanced.”

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Emergency calls regarding the church came in at around 1 a.m.

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About two hours later, just after 3 a.m., another Catholic church caught fire, this time in Oliver.

St. Gregory’s Church, located on Osoyoos Indian band lands, was 109 years old and was also reduced to rubble.

The fires took place on National Indigenous Peoples Day and just weeks after the remains of 215 children were found in unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops.

Read more: Technology uncovered remains at B.C. residential school but secrets still remain beneath the soil

While police have not yet stated they are arson fires, according to Oliver Fire Chief Bob Graham, evidence of an accelerant was found on scene at St. Gregory’s Church.

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“There was an indication that perhaps an accelerant was there,” Graham told Global News.

Oliver’s fire chief believes the two fires are connected.

“It would be a little bit of a stretch to believe that two churches, both on Indian band land, went up independently of each other at the same time,” Graham said. “In my mind, that’s a bit of a stretch.”

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On Tuesday, the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nelson, which covers the Okanagan, issued a statement on the two church fires.

“I am very saddened by the recent fires that destroyed two Catholic churches — Sacred Heart Mission at Penticton Indian Band and St. Gregory Mission at Osoyoos Indian Band — and for the hurt that it has caused,” stated Bishop Gregory Bittman.

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“For many years, our priests have been welcomed to minister in these mission churches and it is our hope that this ministry will continue. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the fires and we are grateful that no one died or was physically injured.”

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A suspect or suspects have not yet been identified.

RCMP urged anyone with any information to come forward.

“We’re still asking for the public, any witnesses who may have seen any vehicles or people around either of the churches late at night on June 20 or early in the morning on June 21 to come forward,” Bayda said.

“They can also call Crime Stoppers if they wish to remain anonymous.”

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