MERRITT, B.C. — Police in the Nicola Valley are investigating after fires at separate Merritt-area churches overnight.
Merritt Fire Rescue first responded to a church located in the 2900-block of Voght Street in Merritt — the Crossroads Community Church.
"The second was a church located along Highway 5A and then of course due to the suspicious nature of these fires the investigations have been turned over to the RCMP," Capt. Carl Johnston says.
Photos posted to social media show Murray United Church, a historic building located along Highway 5A, completely engulfed in flames.
According to the Murray Church's website, it was originally built in 1876 as a Presbyterian Church.
"In 1927 the church became Murray United Church," the website says. "It is the oldest building in the Nicola Valley and also the only building still standing made with local Nicola Valley Lumber. This United Church is the most photographed church in all of the Southern Interior of BC."
Cst. Tracy Dunsmore of the Merritt RCMP says members were called to the Murray United Church while on scene battling a small fire at the Crossroads Community Church.
"From the file it says that it was pretty much completely destroyed," Dunsmore said of the Murray Church. "At this point we're still investigating whether the two fires are related or what was going on."
She said it's too soon to say whether either of these could be considered hate crimes.
"It's certainly mischief to religious structures depending on what the intent of the person that lit them was, the fact that they're both churches could certainly, depending on what we find out with our investigation, it could be (a hate crime), but at this point it's just mischief to religious structures and we are looking for any information from the public," she says.
"Whether it's someone local, somebody from out of town we'll have to check other communities and see if there was anything similar," Dunsmore said. "We're looking for information from the public if they saw any vehicles, suspicious persons, somebody making comments on Facebook or even within their own group that might indicate some kind of vendetta against churches or something specific, they can call the Merritt RCMP or Crime Stoppers if they have any information like that."
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