Surrey church destroyed by ‘suspicious’ fire in Whalley neighbourhood

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — Smoke and flames could be seen for kilometres as crews battled a fire in Surrey’s Whalley neighbourhood early Monday morning.

The St. George Coptic Orthodox Church, in the area of 108 Avenue and 138 Street, was completely destroyed after flames broke out around 3:30 a.m.

Surrey RCMP confirmed Monday that they are treating the fire as suspicious and are investigating if the fire is related to an arson incident that happened a week earlier.

On July 14, RCMP said a female suspect lit items on fire in front of the door to the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church, and then left the area. She was captured on surveillance video just after 2:30 a.m. and police have not yet found this person.

RCMP released a photo of the woman and are appealing for any information.

Surrey RCMP are releasing a photo of a suspect in a July 14 arson investigation. RCMP said they are investigating any possible connection between that incident to the recent fire. Credit: Surrey RCMP

“It is important to note, that although both of these incidents are suspicious, there is currently no evidence linking these two separate investigations,” Surrey RCMP said in a news release.

She’s described as white, 5’7” tall, with a heavy-set build and dark hair. She was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, a black tank top, black tights with a flower print, and black flip flops.

Holly Quinn says she woke up to the fire burning in her neighbourhood.

“There’s only one wall remaining of the original building, just the front atrium…we can see the flames from our deck,” Quinn said.

The Surrey Fire Department confirmed that despite efforts from crews, the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church was fully lost to the fire.

“The roof’s collapsed on it. It’s a fully defensive fire at this time. It was fully involved, it’s completely destroyed,” Asst. Fire Chief Shelley Morris said.

The fire did not spread to any neighbouring properties.

Quinn says she’s thankful for that, as there are a lot of buildings very close by and lots of trees.

“There are firefighters on the roofs of condos across the street from the blaze, making sure it doesn’t spread.”

The fire could be seen as far away as New Westminster and many in the area complained of ash in the air.

News of the fire has hit many members of the church hard. Medhat Elmasry, a board member of the church, says barely anything was left after the fire.

“Only the façade that’s left and the rest seems to be gone,” he told NEWS 1130.

“Today, for me, is a day of mourning for my church,” Elmasry said, adding he’s been coming to the church for about 25 years. “It’s catastrophic for me.”

He says the church played a big role in many people’s lives, including his own. With a congregation of about 400 families, Elmasry says he’s not sure what the next steps will be, noting it will likely cost a lot of money to rebuild.

Elmasry told NEWS 1130 that he believes the fire may have been deliberately set.

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Anyone with more information is asked to contact the Surrey RCMP at 604-599-0502

-With files from Kareem Gouda

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