Church leaders fear arsonist with a grudge

| October 15, 2009

EDMONTON — Wetaskiwin churches are on alert and police are searching for suspects after two church fires in the city in less than 24 hours.

A suspicious fire caused extensive damage to St. Johns Lutheran Church early Wednesday, less than a day after a fire burned another church to the ground.

"We’re notifying parishioners and churches, trying to liase with them to ensure they take the proper precautions and ensure no one comes on their property to set a fire," said Wetaskiwin RCMP Const. Scott Mercer. "Two churches in two days raises some eyebrows."

Police have not determined if the two fires are related, but church leaders say it’s too big of a coincidence.

"I guess, because of the second church fire, there is a concern in our thinking that there’s something more to this than an accident that happened at First United," said Mission Church Reverend Wayne Wicks.

"It could be somebody out there who has an issue, maybe, with churches. It’s unpredictable, if that’s the case, and I’m not sure it is, what that person would do next."

Wetaskiwin Church of God pastor Sieghard Schulz met with his trustee board Wednesday night, and they agreed to implement safety precautions in the wake of the fires.

"We are taking steps, but exactly what they are I don’t think I could say without compromising safety," he said after the meeting.

"I don’t think the residents here consider it a coincidence. It definitely is something that causes concern for us all."

Wicks said his church won’t yet have someone sleep in the church overnight, but it’s something they would consider if things get worse.

Wetaskiwin Mayor Don Montgomery said the fires have everyone in the community keeping watch on the town’s streets.

"People wonder," he said. "It does seem suspicious.

"Yesterday, the community was devastated with the loss of First United, and now today with the other church. It could be coincidence or it could not be, but this is why people have to be vigilant."

The provincial fire investigator is still helping local fire officials determine the cause of Tuesday’s fire, Mercer said.

There are no suspects in Wednesday’s fire. Police are asking for the public’s help in locating the people responsible, he said.

Wetaskiwin RCMP and fire crews responded to the St Johns fire about 3 a.m. Wednesday. The fire was contained and didn’t spread to surrounding buildings, Mercer said.

On Tuesday, about 40 firefighters from Wetaskiwin, Millet and Camrose worked to put out a fire at Wetaskiwin First United Church that was reported just before 5 a.m.

No one was injured in either fire.

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Category: Church Security

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