A 29-year-old Alberta man faces ten counts of arson connected to a destroyed church and damaged Canada Post office last month, among other fires deemed related.
Around 3:30 a.m. on April 28, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Cherry Grove burned. Fire police declared the blaze suspicious.
"We found some evidence on site that makes the fire very suspicious," said Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) Regional Fire Chief Dan Heney. "The way the fire was acting also indicates it's suspicious."
"This is a devastating loss, especially knowing the high possibility both were set deliberately," he added.
The fire police also discovered another blaze at the local Canada Post office. Soon after, they managed to get it under control without significant damage to the structure.
Two days later, police responded to several vehicle and structure fires in Cherry Grove in the Maple Street and Pine Drive areas, including at two residential homes. They arrested the local man, whose identity they have yet to reveal.
He remains under house arrest from an unrelated incident and will appear before a judge in Cold Lake on May 10.
Last August, local RCMP investigated several suspicious wildfires in the Hilda Lake, Cold Lake Provincial Park, Ardmore, and Cherry Grove areas. The police uncovered that the fires had been intentionally set.
On September 9, Cold Lake RCMP responded to another fire deliberately set — this time on the rodeo grounds at Cherry Grove.
Alberta RCMP has responded to a rampage of unrelated church fires across the province, including multiple blazes in Ponoka, Bashaw and Wetaskiwin.
Since January, RCMP has responded to "multiple reports of vandalism to area churches…with churches being the target of mischief."
On February 13, St. Michaels Hungarian Church burned down. The following day, two suspects turned themselves in to Bashaw RCMP.
Cameron Moses Wright, 18, of Ponoka County and a young offender who cannot be named, faced arson charges, 13 counts of mischief and ten counts of breaking and entering. The minor appeared in court on April 11, with Wright appearing in Stettler two days later.
Okotoks RCMP and the Foothills County Fire Department also continue investigating a suspected arson that decimated Okotoks Alliance Church on February 5. The building's basement suffered damage, but the fire department quickly extinguished the blaze.
"[We located at the scene a] broken basement window and a plastic cap for a jerry can [that] suggested the fire was intentional," said the RCMP in a statement.
In January, another blaze destroyed the St. Joseph Lutheran Church, which law enforcement said was caused by arson. That investigation also remains ongoing.
Since 2020, over 70 Catholic churches across Canada have been "suspiciously" vandalized or burned, with as many as ten Alberta churches vandalized on July 1, 2021. The vandalism came after suspected arson burned down several churches to the ground in suspicious fires nationwide.
In a suspected arson, St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church — constructed in 1908 — burned to the ground on June 30, 2021. Alberta RCMP finished their report into the blaze that September, but never made the results public.