Surrey, B.C., church destroyed in fire; Mounties investigating suspicious circumstances

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SURREY, B.C. —
A Surrey, B.C., church has been destroyed after a massive fire early Monday morning.

Flames broke out at St. George Coptic Orthodox Church on 108 Avenue and 139 Street shortly after 3:30 a.m.

By the time firefighters arrived the building was engulfed in flames and it was upgraded to a third-alarm fire.

Crews took a defensive strategy to stop the flames from spreading to nearby homes.

“We were worried about exposures; we’ve got one residential house to the east of it. We wanted to make sure the flying embers weren’t igniting anything else,” said Assistant Chief Shelley Morris, of the Surrey Fire Service.

Fortunately, no one was hurt.

“We don’t know the cause at this time. We’ll be investigating later today once we fully douse the fire.”

Surrey RCMP has confirmed there was an attempted arson at the church last week, and the investigation is ongoing.

Surveillance video, provided from the church and dated last Wednesday at 2:30 a.m., shows a woman approaching the front door of the building and lighting it on fire.

Members of the church say there was some damage to the door and they’ve been working with police to identify the suspect.

“It is disturbing that the church has now burnt,” said Sgt. Elenore Sturko with the Surrey RCMP. “We will be investigating both of these incidents separately, and this time there is no indication that these two incidents are linked, but we will be looking very closely at both the circumstances.”

Some in the congregation feel the church was deliberately set ablaze.

“I think it’s arson and I think it has probably to do with the burning of churches that’s happening around the country, where there is no distinction between one type of church or another type of church,” said Medhat Elmasry, a church board member.

Sturko said the string of fires targeting various churches is also on the minds of police.

“We also are aware that there have been other church fires across British Columbia and other parts of Canada, and we are alive to that. We don’t have any information to suggest is related to any of those other incidents at this time, but our officers, and the Surrey Fire Service, are treating this as suspicious at this time,” she said.

Elmasry said the church has been there since the ’90s and more than 380 families attend it.

“It feels really bad, because… it’s our life, our churches, our life. We spend a lot of time in our church. And we have a large congregation. So I speak on behalf of my congregation. I’m sure we’re all heartbroken at the moment,” he told CTV News.

He said many of the items inside of the church are irreplaceable.

“There are relics of saints that are totally priceless. That must have gone in these flames. You cannot recover those,” he said, adding that he hopes the person responsible is caught.

“My message is: what have you achieved? What did you do this for? You targeted a peaceful community, a peaceful church.”

The church was also home to a daycare.

The operators told CTV News they have insurance, but are concerned about where the 65 kids they usually look after will go.

Officials say 108 Avenue near 139 Street is expected to be shutdown for several hours.

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