Arson unit investigating blaze at Calgary church; fire may be linked to vandalism incidents

Calgary police arson investigators are working to determine if a fire at a Forest Lawn church was deliberately set, and say the blaze could be linked to a recent string of vandalism incidents in the city.

Firefighters arrived at the two-storey church in the 4900 block of Forego Avenue at about 7:20 p.m. to find “large volumes of smoke and flames” coming from the building.

Crews were able to get the flames under control from the outside quickly before making their way inside to extinguish smaller fires.

Read more: Calgary church considers leaving vandalism untouched to acknowledge residential school system

No one was inside at the time of the fire, police said.

Detectives who have been investigating a string of nearly a dozen churches being vandalized with red paint last week will be helping the arson unit with its search for clues.

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Police said it was too early on in the investigation to know how the fire started, and if it was on purpose, why.

“We are very aware of the current tensions in the community around residential schools and the acts of vandalism and arson that have been occurring,” police said in a news release.

“We will examine whether there is any connection in this case, but we are asking people in the meantime to be patient while we work to figure out what exactly happened.”

Click to play video: 'Calgary police investigating if church vandalism was a co-ordinated effort' Calgary police investigating if church vandalism was a co-ordinated effort

Calgary police investigating if church vandalism was a co-ordinated effort

The service acknowledged the “trauma, hurt and anger” felt by community members in Calgary and across Canada in the wake of unmarked graves being found at the sites of residential schools.

“While the vast majority of people have been peacefully expressing their responses to these events, we also know that the unlawful vandalism and burning of churches across the country has left many in our community feeling unsafe,” the police said.

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Read more: Suspects sparked Peace River church fire with Molotov cocktails, RCMP say

The police service said while it’s still not clear if this fire is related to the vandalism of other churches — and fires at other churches around Alberta and elsewhere in the country — it’s committed to “working toward peaceful reconciliation while still performing our duties of upholding the law and protecting public safety.”

Anyone with information on the fire is asked to contact police at 403-266-1234 or to contact Crime Stoppers.

— With files from Jayme Doll, Global News

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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