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Community steps up after church suffers fire damage
Alex Antoneshyn, CTV Edmonton
Published Friday, September 14, 2018 12:52PM MDT
Last Updated Friday, September 14, 2018 6:49PM MDT
Events and programs originally being hosted by the Highlands United Church are finding new venues after a fire damaged the building Friday morning.
Edmonton Police Service said it received a call just after 8:30 a.m. about a break and enter at 11305 64 Street.
According to District Chief Randy Shakura, fire crews were on scene in three minutes and had the fire under control by 9:15 a.m.
Shakura said most of the damage was in the front part of the building, although crews worked throughout the day to clear smoke from the rest of the building.
Minister John Burrill said Sunday's service was cancelled. Instead, the congregation will meet at Highlands Golf Club.
He didn’t know the extent of the building’s damage, but was optimistic about the church’s future.
“I’m hoping the church proper, the sanctuary, will be able to still be able to be worshipped in. And we can rebuild and still be a presence here in this community.”
There was also a wedding scheduled at Highlands United Church Saturday; Grace United Church offered their building for the event.
And St. Clare Catholic Parish volunteered space to the pre-school that rents out one of the rooms at the church.
The emergency call was placed Friday morning by the pre-school teacher, Melanie Harmsma. She was alone at the building getting ready for the day when there was a first sign of trouble.
“I heard some thumping, and about five minutes later, I heard the alarms go off in the church,” recalled Harmsma.
“I went upstairs, saw someone leaving the church, and went to pursue him, thinking it was a theft.”
The suspect fled the scene on a bike, and Harmsma called police. But as she was heading back towards the building, she saw flames through the church’s office window: “The building went up really quick.”
“I’m just thankful that my pre-schoolers, who were due to arrive 20 minutes later, were not in the building,” said Harmsma. “We practice our fire drills every month with three and four-year-olds, but you never want to actually use your skills in real life.”
At this point, the fire is being considered suspicious and the arson unit has been notified. Further investigation would be needed before the incident could be turned to the hate crimes unit.
As for the congregation, the church is thinking about how to move forward.
“This can be fixed, and this was the building. The church was the people. The spirit’s alive and will continue on,” said Burrill.
Highlands United Church has been active in Edmonton since 1912. The building was built in 1926.