An Okotoks house of worship is left burnt, but standing after a suspected arson last weekend.
On the morning of Sunday, Feb. 5, the Okotoks Fire Department was called to a fire at Okotoks Alliance Church.
“We were called initially for alarm bells and upon arrival, the first arriving captain didn’t see anything until he did a 360,” said deputy Chief Colin Sager. "He noticed on the back side in a lower room on one of the corners there was an active fire.
“They did an initial attack from the outside to give them a chance to get back inside, finally put out the interior fire and kept the fire to one room.”
Alberta RCMP Cpl. Gina Slaney confirmed Thursday afternoon the fire is being considered suspicious and is still under investigation in conjunction with the OFD.
Lead Pastor Terry Lee said there is significant damage to a portion of the church, and was told it is suspected arson.
“A little after 1 a.m. the alarms went off, and the fire department’s language was that someone had kicked in three windows in the north wing, which is our children’s ministries wing, and they had some gasoline and lit it on fire,” Lee said.
“So, one room was damaged by fire, but then smoke throughout that portion of the building, and water damage putting out the fire were the things that caused further damage.”
Before church staff and congregation could return to the other areas of the building, Lee added, air quality testing and air scrubbing machinery had to be brought in.
“No one was hurt, the fire department was very quick and responded professionally,” he said. “We’ve got a good insurance policy, so we’re grateful for that; it’s a $5,000 deductible which is nothing to shake a stick at, but a small factor in the grand scheme of things.”
The damage to the wing will affect various programming and outreach held at the church, which the pastor said will be difficult to find room for.
“The church family has pulled together where there’s some way to be helpful, which is limited,” Lee said. “There’s insurance, and the pros are doing remediation, but the north wing will be requiring fairly significant remediation and will be unusable to us for two to three months.
“We’re looking at finding portable trailers we can bring in to serve both our children’s ministries and community groups that are in and out of the building throughout the week.
“We had to displace all of them this week, which is no small thing for those organizations.”
Among those user groups displaced are organizations that work with youth with developmental disabilities, the Foothills Philharmonic Society, and various therapy and addictions groups.
Despite the trouble caused, the pastor is trying to see the alleged crime through the lens of compassion.
“Someone who does something like this is clearly disturbed, and we would like to reach out to them in anyway we could,” Lee said. “Especially if it was someone who was disturbed at the church or our church specifically and make amends in whatever way we possibly could.
“We’ve been praying for that individual or individuals that they would get the help they need, and if we can help them get that help, we would be glad to do so.”
The investigation is ongoing and more information may become available.