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Fire at historic church in Fort Chipewyan being investigated as suspicious: RCMP

Click to play video: 'Century-old church in Fort Chipewyan catches fire'
Century-old church in Fort Chipewyan catches fire
Residents in Fort Chipewyan woke up to word their historical church had burned to the ground. As Sarah Komadina reports, the cause is under investigation but RCMP say it seems to be suspicious – Aug 25, 2022

An overnight fire at a church in northeastern Alberta is being investigated as suspicious.

Fort Chipewyan RCMP received call at 2:34 a.m. Thursday about a fire at Blessed Virgin Roman Catholic Church in the northeastern Alberta hamlet.

“Our officers saw that the church was fully engulfed in flames. We worked closely with the local fire department, as well as forestry in an attempt to contain the fire,” Alberta RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Troy Savinkoff said.

Read more: RCMP investigate burned-down church in northern Alberta

Savinkoff said the fire posed a risk to the community, as officers feared it may spread to the nearby forest and structures. Fortunately, fire crews were able to contain the fire to the church.

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“It definitely gave us a bit of a scare that it would spread further,” Savinkoff said.

However, the church itself is believed to be a total loss.

Click to play video: 'Cellphone video captures fire which consumed St. Jean Baptiste Parish Church in Morinville, AB'
Cellphone video captures fire which consumed St. Jean Baptiste Parish Church in Morinville, AB

“Unfortunately, it is my understanding that the church itself is a total loss. It was a historical site, or a heritage site,” Savinkoff said. “My understanding is it wasn’t used on a weekly basis, however, it was still used for baptisms and other such events on occasion.

“Speaking to one of the local officers, it’s my understanding that this specific location, losing it will be felt by the community itself and it’s a tragic loss to the community.”

Read more: Fire at Fox Lake church was deliberately set: RCMP

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Built in 1909, the church has been part of the community for over 100 years.

In a statement, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation chief and council said they are saddened by the loss of the church.

“Even though the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Roman Catholic Church is complicated, the loss of the church will be deeply felt in the community,” the statement read.

“Over 100 years of history in the community was lost, a history that included marriages, funerals and hundreds of other significant moments in the community.”

Click to play video: 'Fire at historic church in Fort Chipewyan being investigated as suspicious: RCMP'
Fire at historic church in Fort Chipewyan being investigated as suspicious: RCMP

Savinkoff said the circumstances around the fire “seem to be suspicious.”

“We have called in our local GIS (General Investigations Section) department and we will be working with a fire investigator to try to determine a cause of the fire,” he said.

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“We’re treating it as a crime scene so we’ll have some security there until our fire investigator arrives and we’re able to forensically look at the fire itself and determine a cause.”

On Friday, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said this reminds him of “similar incidents of hate that led to the destruction and vandalism of several churches in the summer of 2021.”

In a statement, he said he wonders “if the same hate and intolerance are at the root of this latest devastating act.

“Hate-motivated crimes like this have no place in Alberta, and our government has been working hard to offer protection and support to those who are being targeted,” Shandro said.

“I strongly encourage all religious, cultural and ethnic communities dealing with threats of hate and bias to learn more about the Alberta Security Infrastructure Program and how to apply for assistance. It could make a real difference for Albertans being targeted by these heinous crimes.”

A spokesperson for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said that, while driving to the scene, a fire department pumper truck left the road and rolled over. The driver suffered minor injuries and that is the only injury connected to the fire.

Fort Chipewyan is located within the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo about 700 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

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Fire destroyed a church in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022. Courtesy, Tammie Tuccaro
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Fire destroyed a church in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022. Courtesy, Tammie Tuccaro
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Fire destroyed a church in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022. Courtesy, Tammie Tuccaro

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