By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The Town awoke Sunday morning to find another church destroyed by fire over night. As of 5 a.m. Sunday morning firefighters were still on scene dousing the final flames that destroyed St. Andrews Anglican Church.
The Morinville Fire Department received a call around 2:20 a.m. Sunday morning that an explosion had occurred at the church, located on the corner of 100 Avenue and 107 Street.
On their arrival fire crews found smoke coming from the back roof area of the building. That smoke was quickly followed by fire as firefighters broke through to combat the blaze.
Morinville Incident Commander Captain Darren Brenneis said approximately 20 to 30 firefighters from the two departments were involved in the call.
“When we got on scene we had heavy smoke coming through the roof with reports of explosions happening,” he said, adding once the flames began coming through the roof, the department’s ladder truck was raised to combat the fire from above.”
The Captain said it is not know at this time what caused Sunday morning’s fire. Those details will emerge when fire investigators have an opportunity to examine the scene. However, several witnesses on scene reported explosions prior to the fire.
One of those witnesses, James Brockwell, lives in the apartment building next to the church. The explosions woke him.
“It was just after I went to bed, I think around 2 [a.m.]. I heard a big bang and the building shook. I popped up and looked out my window and there was flames coming out of the little back shed and hissing and whistling like it was a propane tank or a gas line that had gone off.”
Captain Brenneis said there was little fire crews could do to save the church.
“When we have a building that is burning through the roof like that, what we are trying to do is protect the other structures near by and protect other property,” Captain Brenneis said, adding the fire caused no real dangers with the proximity to the Morinville Shell gas station across the road. “We had the ladder in place protecting the gas station.”
St. Andrews, in addition to providing Sunday services to local Anglicans, was also home to the Father’s House’s Impact Youth Ministries. Representatives from the two churches were at the scene Sunday morning to survey the damage and to remove items not destroyed by the fire.
For Anglican Reverend Ron Hörst, Sunday started like any normal Sunday, with a drive to Morinville to lead the congregation. The difference was he was arriving to see his church in ruins. “I’m really sad,” Hörst said. “I’m sad for all the people who have put their heart into this building, and I’m certainly sad for the Father’s House church that has lost far more in the way of ministry tools than we did.”
Hörst said he was delighted to be able to retrieve his church’s records Sunday morning, documents that contain the Anglican Church in Morinville’s history. But though his documents are intact, so too is his faith. The reverend said he awoke Sunday morning with a message he had received from a speaker at a gathering with the bishop recently.
“The fellow speaking was saying the Christian message is don’t be afraid because the Lord is with you,” Hörst said. “I woke up thinking that and I had a lot of peace when I was getting ready for what I thought was going to be a normal Sunday. Half an hour after that I got a call from one of my parishioners that this building was burning. Now I’m here seeing a building that is totally ruined. That really is our first role, to know the Lord is with us, and whatever happens next, he will be with us. We are going to go from here.”
Pastor Greg Fraser of the Father’s House said he was shocked when he arrived at 5 a.m. Sunday morning to see the destruction in progress and to see firefighters blasting water into the building. “We were just here last night for a prayer meeting for a big trip that we’re taking to Honduras,” Fraser said, adding there were about 24 people in the building until about 10 p.m. Saturday night. “One of our staff was working until about midnight, but I guess the fire started about 2 [p.m.], and by the time the fire department got here, which was quite quickly, it was already fully engulfed.”
Fraser said he believed, according to preliminary reports, the fire started in the wall. “They suspected the shed in the corner, but it actually looks like it was in the wall,” Fraser said.
The loss of St. Andrews Anglican Church is the second loss of a Morinville church in nine months. An electrical fire destroyed Morinville Baptist Church Sept. 22, 2012.