British Columbia

Arson blamed in fire that destroyed B.C. Catholic church

Police said Wednesday they believe two suspicious fires that ruined a van and damaged a church in B.C.'s Kootenay region this week were deliberately set.

Separate fires hit Red Cross van and St. Rita's church Monday night in Castlegar

Police say a fire that swept through St. Rita's Catholic Church Monday was deliberately set. (RCMP)

Police said Wednesday they believe two suspicious fires that ruined a van and damaged a church in Castlegar this week were deliberately set.

At around 10:30 p.m. PT Monday night, a Red Cross van parked at the Kinnaird Community Church, in the 1200 block of 26th Street, was found engulfed in flames.

Then, just before midnight, police and fire crews responded to a fire at St. Rita's Catholic Parish on 7th Avenue. The fire swept through the church itself, however the rectory and church hall were undamaged.

A Red Cross van parked at the Kinnaird Community Church in Castlegar was also torched Monday night. (RCMP)

No one was injured in the fires.

RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk says police are now looking for tips from the public to help identify the possible arsonists — or arsonist.

"As both fires have occurred in close proximity, and in time of occurrences, we're treating them as possibly being related, obviously," he said Tuesday.

Moskaluk says it might be a coincidence that both fires destroyed property belonging to Christian groups, but police will be looking into that as well.

"We've not seen past similar incidents targeting religious groups. Now, the association to both incidents occurring on religious groups' property is also being examined," he said.

Parish without church on Easter

Mosaluk said the act of deliberately setting fire to anyone's property is a serious offence at any time of the year, but is especially disturbing given the timing during Holy Week — the week before the major Christian holiday of Easter.

Mary-Ann Morris, who lives in Castlegar, has hosted community events at the church, and says churchgoers are devastated by the loss of the building.

Without a church, the St. Rita's Catholic community is scrambling to make plans for the remainder of Holy Week, which precedes Easter Week. (RCMP)

"St. Rita's is a very important community in Castlegar... This is a real blow."

She said the loss of the building will be especially felt as the community scrambles to hold services in a different location. 

"We have Easter Sunday, Good Friday coming up this coming weekend... all of that is going to be experienced at a very very deep level as they go through their own sense of incredible sorrow, sadness, and hopefully coming together and rebuilding," she said.

Police are asking that anyone who has video or photographs of the church or van fires to share it with officers in the Castlegar RCMP Detachment.

With files from the CBC's Jaimie Kehler