Pair of early morning fires at Merritt-area churches considered suspicious by police

Calls came in to police just before 2 a.m. reporting a fire at the Crossroads Community Church on Voght Street. While emergency services were on scene, calls came in that the historic Murray United Church, around 10 kilometres northeast, was also on fire.

140-year-old Murray United Church now 'pile of ashes,' witness says

Neighbour Pam Taylor said she could only watch as the church she had gone to since childhood was destroyed by fire. (Pam Taylor)

RCMP in Merritt, B.C., are investigating fires at separate churches early Friday morning.

Calls came in to police just before 2 a.m. PT reporting a fire at the Crossroads Community Church on Voght Street. Const. Tracy Dunsmore with Merritt RCMP said there was minimal damage to that church.

"There's definitely suspicion of arson in that fire," she said. "We're currently investigating that."

While emergency services were on scene, calls came in that the historic Murray United Church, around 10 kilometres northeast of Merritt on Highway 5A, was also on fire.

Dunsmore said that church, which was built in 1876 and was one of B.C.'s oldest remaining wooden churches, suffered significant damage.

The Murray United Church, which was built in 1876, is now a pile of ashes according to neighbour Pam Taylor, who watched the fire early Friday morning. (Pam Taylor)

Pam Taylor, who lives across the street from the Murray Church, watched the fire early Friday morning.

"When we were kids, we used to go to that church," she said. "It's a landmark."

She said by the time the fire department arrived, it was too late — the church was engulfed in flames and damage was severe.

"The wood was so old, they just couldn't do anything."

The last service that was held at the church was on Christmas Eve 2018, even though the building had no running water or power, according to local historian Murphy Shewchuk. 

Taylor told CBC that the church is now "a pile of ashes," and all that remains is the chimney.

Both fires are being treated as suspicious. RCMP are asking anyone with information to contact police or CrimeStoppers.

"It could be Facebook posts or something that somebody overheard," Dunsmore said.

With files from Doug Herbert