Church garage damaged in suspicious fire in B.C. Interior, say officials

The Grace Lutheran Church’s garage went up in flames on Friday evening, but West Kelowna Fire Rescue attended the scene and put out the blaze.

Firefighters in Kelowna put out a suspicious fire behind a church on Friday evening.

The Grace Lutheran Church’s garage went up in flames, but was put out quickly, said West Kelowna Fire Rescue in a statement.

The fire comes after a string of suspicious incidents that have seen some churches lit on fire, burned to the ground, or vandalized in several communities across B.C. and Alberta.

Friday night’s fire was initially reported as “grass fire” but it quickly spread to the garage and was upgraded to a “structure fire,” said spokesperson Jason Brolund in a statement.

“The fire appears to have extended from the outside of the building and caused some damage to the garage and contents,” he said.

“The building was being used to store maintenance materials for the church property.”

The cause of the fire is suspicious and under investigation says the West Kelowna Fire Rescue service. Four firetrucks attended the scene.

West Kelowna fire officials did not say whether they suspect the fire is connected to any of the other previous church fires.

At least five of the churches that were destroyed or damaged by flames in the past month were on First Nations reserve land. Some have speculated that the church destruction and vandalism are connected to the confirmation of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country as many of the schools were run by Christian churches.

Last weekend a fire was set at a church in Prince George, and police said they believed it was the work of an arsonist.

The Vancouver Police Department also announced it was investigating acts of vandalism on three churches in the city.

Earlier in the week, a Pentecostal Indigenous church minister made a plea for people to stop setting fire to churches, saying the incidents were triggering.

“(Seeing the fires) brings up former traumatic feelings of violence and threats," said Jenn Allan-Riley of Living Waters Church.