Church damaged by fire in alleged arson

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Officials with Winnipeg’s Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral are scrambling to come up with another plan for Sunday’s service after a fire Thursday evening caused extensive damage to the north Winnipeg church.

“I went down to the church [last night] and surprise, surprise, there was about 15 fire trucks and smoke billowing out of the south side of the cathedral,” said Cathedral president Greg Palaschuk.

The fire, which investigators say was arson, started around 9:30 p.m. Thursday at the Main Street and Redwood Avenue building. No one was hurt. Damages are estimated at more than $1 million.

Palaschuk and others suited up in protective gear Friday afternoon to look at the damage. He said it’s extensive and is going to take many months to repair.

“It’s going to take months and months of renovations because of religious artifacts and the stained glass materials.… It’s horrible, that’s what it is; it’s horrible,” he said.

“Everything was soaking wet,” Palaschuk added. “Some of the wood is charred, some of the stained glass windows on the second level are damaged.”

“Extensive damage is an understatement.”

“The parishioners are strong, the congregation are strong. Is it a setback? Big time, but as a group we will pull together and get through this.”

Church members he’s talked to can’t believe it and are struggling to come to grips with who might have started the blaze, he said.

The church’s security alarm went off shortly before the fire alarm went off, police said. Fire officials said the blaze was contained mostly to the main floor, but smoke and water damage in the building is extensive.

“I know there is a lot of smoke damage,” Palaschuk said. “I saw water leaking from the cathedral area down into the second floor. I can only imagine there is not only smoke, but water damage [as well].”

Construction on the cathedral started in 1949 with the basement portion opening in 1952, the church website says. The cathedral itself was opened and consecrated in 1962.

Palaschuk praised the firefighters for getting the fire contained before more damage could be done.

“I left [the scene] and those guys donned their masks and they went in,” he said. “I can’t praise them enough for the job they did in fighting this fire.”

For now, Palaschuk said the doors of the church will be shut.

“The sign now unfortunately is going to say the cathedral is closed,” he said. “Right now, given the situation, it’s impossible” to host services.

“It’s a strong congregation. What we’re going to, as a group, take one step at a time and move on together.”

Anyone who may have seen anything suspicious in the area is asked to call police.

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