Okotoks church saved from 'targeted' blaze, RCMP says arson could be the cause

Local law enforcement received a call around 1:20 am on February 5 to the fire at Okotoks Alliance Church in Foothills County. The building's basement suffered damage, but the fire department quickly extinguished the blaze.

Okotoks church saved from 'targeted' blaze, RCMP says arson could be the cause
Facebook / Okotoks Alliance Church
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Okotoks RCMP continue to investigate a suspected arson that nearly got out of hand and could have decimated a local church.

Local law enforcement received a call around 1:20 am on February 5 to the fire at Okotoks Alliance Church in Foothills County. The building's basement suffered damage, but the fire department quickly extinguished the blaze.

Okotoks Alliance Church lead pastor Terry Lee said its security system notified church staff early that morning, and their worship pastor, Tim Korthuis, headed to the building.

"He got here about when the fire department arrived and was putting out the fire. They seemed to have responded very promptly and got the fire under control quickly," said Lee.

"[I] started getting phone calls, and the fire trucks were here by the time we [arrived]. They had responded quickly to discover that the windows at the rear of the building had been smashed through, accelerants had been spread, and then a fire lit."

The lead pastor added that the perpetrators splashed gasoline within the building and ignited it in one of the children's ministry rooms on the church's lower level. Emergency responders found abandoned gasoline tanks outside the building.

"[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 news release.

Okotoks RCMP and the Foothills County Fire Department stated their investigation into the alleged arson remains ongoing.

As for the church's reverend, he expressed a merciful approach to those who started the blaze.

"It's disappointing. It points to the fact that someone is disturbed and, if they're disturbed, they need help, and we want to offer whatever help we can," said Lee. 

"If it's — God forbid — a vendetta against God or the church, let us make it right as best we can. If we've caused some offense to someone, we would want to do what we can to make amends for that."

The pastor added that many events hosted at the church are cancelled or postponed, owing to considerable smoke damage that rendered the entire north wing of Okotoks Alliance Church unusable. 

The building is used widely by the community, including Alcoholics Anonymous groups, a preschool, and the Foothills Philharmonic Society. But the incident on February 5 has forced community groups to seek out other venues for the time being.

Though the church's sanctuary and lobby remained untouched by the fire, church services resumed the following Sunday without children's services while the ministry cleaned the air.

"Those are all being displaced this week until we can get some kind of supplemental space, like a trailer or something like that, to replace the lost space temporarily," said Lee.

"It's been distressing, shocking, and disruptive."

For those uncomfortable attending the service in person, Lee said the church has also offered to livestream it. He expressed gratitude for the overwhelming support from the broader Okotoks community during this difficult time for the congregation.

In January, another blaze hit a local Hay Lakes, Alberta church, and law enforcement determined arson burned St. Joseph Lutheran Church.

Camrose RCMP and the Hay Lakes Fire Department responded to a call about a structure fire on Highway 623 at approximately 11:30 pm on New Year's Eve.

That investigation also remains ongoing.

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