Investigators have determined that the fire that destroyed Holy Trinity church in Two Hills County was deliberately set, and may be linked to another in the area on the same night.
“There was definitely some type of accelerant used,” regional fire chief Brad Straty said of the fire that started in the just before midnight on July 25. “It’s very disappointing that someone would do this to a building, especially a church. We took pictures of what was left in the basement, and there’s not much of that.”
The church was situated in a rural area known as New Kiev in Two Hills County, about 120 kilometres east of Edmonton.
In a statement, the Archdiocese of Edmonton called the loss of the church “heartbreaking” especially for the community that maintained and protected it.
Straty said flames were shooting out of the windows when firefighters from Two Hills County and nearby Hairy Hill arrived on scene at 1:09 a.m. The church building collapsed into the basement, where firefighters found some items – including coffee cups – still intact.
The historic church, located at the top of a hill, was in “good shape” before the fire, Straty said.
Firefighters were on scene for five hours. All that remained of the church building was the chimney. Straty did say that firefighters managed to protect Holy Trinity’s signature bell, which has been covered with wooden boards to protect it. The church’s cross was also recovered, although it’s slightly bent.
Area residents reported seeing two pickup trucks driving in the isolated area around 2:30 a.m. RCMP spokesman Cpl. Ron Bumbry said the fire was regarded as suspicious since another building, an abandoned house three kilometres away, was burned the same night. No one was injured. Both buildings were empty at the time.
Police are looking for two vehicles spotted in the area at the time of the fires. One is a white ford F250 or F350 single cab truck, with a headache rack, cab and fog lights and a red tidy tank. The second vehicle is a Ford 250 or F350 truck with a four-door, canopy (truck cap) and possibly a roof rack.
They are also asking anyone who was in the area of Range Road 133 and Warwick Road from 11 p.m. July 24 to 2 a.m. July 25 to contact them at (780) 657-2820 or your local police. If you wish to remain anonymous, you can contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS), online at www.P3Tips.com.
Fire chief Straty also noted that area firefighters were called to five hay bale fires in one night in April, although it’s unclear whether those fires are connected to the ones last weekend.
Straty himself had not been in Holy Trinity church but said it was a fixture in Two Hills County.
He also said the fires have heightened concern among area residents.
Holy Trinity has been closed as an active parish for over 20 years, opening only occasionally for special occasions such as weddings and funerals. The last wedding was three years ago, when Miranda Ketchum, a descendant of one of the early Polish settlers who built the church, married her husband Josh.
The Roman Catholic Parish of Holy Trinity was established about 1908, when Jan Baczinksi – an early settler – donated two acres of land for a cemetery, according to a history of the church. At the time, the first pastor of the church would arrive on horseback, rain or snow, and say Mass. Most times he would spend the night at Baczinski’s home and then leave the following morning.
Built in 1947, the current building was the second church on the site, replacing the original log building completed in 1918. The Holy Trinity parish community celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2018.