Edmonton police investigating Highlands United Church fire as arson

There's been a lot of community support for Highlands United Church following a fire last week that displaced the congregation and a nursery school that operated in the building. Police are now investigating the fire as arson.

Congregation receives offers of facilities for church services, new location for preschool

The worst of the damage from the fire was to the church administration area. (CBC)

Edmonton police are now investigating Friday's fire at Highlands United Church as arson, an EPS spokesperson said Monday.

Police investigators will now take over from fire investigators, Scott Pattison said.

In the meantime, there has been a lot of community support for the church at 11305 64th St. since the fire displaced the congregation, and a nursery school that operated in the building.

"Different organizations have come forward in terms of offering their facilities to us," said Rev. John Burrill Monday.

The church board will meet Wednesday evening and "start the process" of determining the next steps, he said.

"What we may do for next Sunday doesn't necessarily mean what we will do for the Sundays in the future," Burrill said. "We'll just have to gather and evaluate and see where we go from here."

While the worst of the fire damage was limited to the church administration area, the damage from smoke and water is extensive through much of the building.

Flames engulfed part of Highlands United Church on Friday, Sept. 14. (Supplied/Melanie Harmsma)

It has meant finding a new home for Highlands Nursery School, which operates out of the building.

"In the midst of something that could potentially be emotionally overwhelming, I'm feeling uplifted by the people around me," nursery school owner-operator Melanie Harmsma said Monday.

Negotiations are underway to move the preschool to Newton Community League at 5520 121 Ave., she said.

"They had a preschool there that had shut down a couple years ago so there is a space there available that is perfectly suited for a preschool," Harmsma said.

The goal is to be in the new temporary space by Wednesday, she said.

Thirteen three- and four-year-olds are registered for the morning sessions and another 10 are enrolled in the afternoon sessions, she said.

"I'm not a crier but this is definitely challenging my emotional resilience — but there's been a lot of support," Harmsma said. "People gathering toys and books, assuming that we'll need replacements."

There is much to be thankful for, said Burrill.

"All of us are just relieved that there were so many rainbows in the midst of the storm," he said. "No one being hurt, and just that the fire itself was addressed so quickly."

Firefighters responded to the fire around 8:30 a.m. Friday and had it under control within 30 minutes.

"The sanctuary itself, although it certainly had smoke damage and a little water damage, the flames didn't touch it," Burrill said.