Fire at southeast Calgary church intentionally set, say police

Police are investigating church fire that that was intentionally set on Sunday evening in southeast Calgary.

Officials deem blaze at House of Prayer Alliance Church an arson case

Police said a fire at the House of Prayer Alliance Church caused damage to the exterior, and small fires and smoke damage inside. (Mike Symington/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Police are investigating a church fire that was intentionally set on Sunday evening in southeast Calgary.

The fire department responded to multiple calls reporting a fire at the House of Prayer Alliance Church, located at 4924 Forego Ave. S.E., around 7:20 p.m. Sunday.

Battalion Chief Keith Stahl said crews found smoke and heavy flame that they were able to extinguish, and determined that no one was inside.

He said the fire was mostly confined to the outside of the building with some exterior burn-through.

Staff Sgt. Kurt Jacobs said Monday afternoon that while the investigation of the fire is still in the preliminary stages, police believe it was not accidental.

There are no suspects at this time.

Thai Nguyen, the church's pastor, says he is saddened by the incident. (Mike Symington/CBC)

The church's pastor, Thai Nguyen, told CBC News on Monday the fire has made him worried. 

"I don't know who [did] that, I don't know what happened," Nguyen said.

"I feel sad. I'm not very happy because, you know, we are … from Vietnam, refugees. We come here looking for a new life, with a new church here. We think that we are in [a] good country … but I think that we have to be more careful."

Canada reckons with Catholic church, residential school system

The incident occurred as churches across the province and country have been torched or defaced in recent weeks, in a wave of vandalism that has occurred since several First Nations reported finding unmarked graves at former residential school sites. 

On July 30, St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, about 40 kilometres north of Edmonton, was destroyed by fire.

Meanwhile, at least 11 churches in Calgary have been defaced with red paint following a national reckoning over the Catholic church's role in the residential school system.

The House of Prayer is not affiliated with the Catholic Church. 

  • WATCH | Passerby records video of fire as it breaks out:

In recent weeks, it's estimated that more than 1,000 unmarked grave sites have been located at former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

The Catholic church operated more than half of all residential schools in Canada between 1831 and 1996, as well as many day schools.

'We are asking people … to be patient'

Police said the detectives investigating the recent vandalism of churches in Calgary will also be involved in the investigation of the fire at the House of Prayer Alliance Church to determine if there are any links to the other cases.

"Investigators will explore all those avenues," said Jacobs.

"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," Calgary police said in a press 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. 

"Our service acknowledges the trauma, hurt and anger being felt by many in the community over the recent news of graves being found at former residential schools."

Churches in Calgary that have recently been vandalized include:

  • St. Bonaventure Catholic Church at 1600 Acadia Dr. S.E.
  • St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church at 819 13th Ave. S.W.
  • St. Mary's Cathedral at 219 18th Ave. S.W.
  • Sacred Heart Church and Columbarium at 1307 14th St. S.W.
  • Grace Presbyterian Church at 1009 15th Ave. S.W.
  • St. Luke's Parish at 1566 Northmount Dr. N.W.
  • Holy Trinity Church at 1525 45th St. S.E.
  • St. Anthony's Catholic Parish at 5340 Fourth St. S.W.
  • All Nations Full Gospel Church at 1403 8th Ave. S.E.
  • St. Joseph Catholic Church at 640 19th Ave. N.W.
  • Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church at 704 Sixth St. N.E.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

With files from Sarah Rieger and Helen Pike