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BREAKING: Fire claims several buildings in Greenwood

Blaze claims historic church, school and home

Greenwood is still reeling after one of the biggest fires in the city’s history claimed several buildings, including a historic church, vacant school and a nearby home that contained an old schoolhouse.

Fire and emergency crews were called out around 2:30 a.m. Friday to South Government Street for a massive fire that engulfed St. Jude’s Anglican Church and a vacant school building, said Greenwood Volunteer Fire Department Chief Roy Terashita. Midway Fire/Rescue, Grand Forks Fire Rescue came as mutual aid, as well as B.C. Ambulance and RCMP were also on the scene.

By the time they arrived the fire had engulfed the church and jumped to the school, Terashita said, then spread to a nearby home and shed.

“It was pretty intense,” he said. “We had about 29 firefighters total on this fire. It was totally out around 7:30 p.m. There were still a few hotspots on Saturday the crew had to tend to.”

Two city blocks were closed to traffic between South Government Road and Skylark Street, as well as Deadwood Street and Providence Street while crews fought to contain the blaze and clean up the aftermath. Terishita said this is one of the biggest fires the city has experienced in recent memory.

Crews were still at the scene most of Friday dousing what was left of the buildings. St. Jude’s was completely destroyed and most of the school was also consumed by flames. The nearby home that contained the old schoolhouse sustained heavy damage.

The cause of the fire is unknown, he said. The B.C. Office of the Fire Commissioner is investigating.

Terashita gave a huge thanks to all the fire crews, RCMP and ambulance that were there to help, as well as residents who did what they could to keep the fire from spreading and themselves safe.

There were no injuries reported by fire crews or witnesses, but there were reports of a man living in the basement of the school barely escaping the flames.

Jennie Wilson, lives across on South Government Street, said she was woken up around 2:30 to a wall of flames.

“It was a towering inferno,” she said. “We were hosing our lawn, travel trailer and roof because the heat was so intense I thought it might melt the trailer because it’s vinyl,” she said. “We also have two 30-pound (fuel) tanks in front of the trailer. We just didn’t want anything to burn up.”

She added it’s considerably lucky the fire didn’t spread to other homes or yards, pointing out many nearby properties have tall conifer trees and shrubs, but there was a heavy dew covering everything.

While residents were grateful there was no loss of life, there are still heavy emotions over the loss of a piece of the city’s history with the destruction of St. Jude’s. Reverend Austin Spry, the incumbent Anglican priest for the Boundary parish, said he received word of the fire from a fellow priest that lived across the street.

The loss of the church marks the end of an era for the Anglican denomination in the region, as St. Jude’s was a “mother church” for the congregation. It was the first Anglican church, founded in 1901, and served the people that arrived for the gold rush. It also helped grow the congregation in other cities, including Holy Trinity in Grand Forks and St. Mary’s in Rock Creek.

The congregation in Greenwood had been declining for years before it ultimately lost its congregation.

“The beginning of the end came about two years ago when we lost two very important members of the congregation,” he said. “There were local groups using it and we were using it as a staging point for donations, such as Coats for Kids and food bank donations.”

The timing is especially tragic for the Anglican parish, Rev. Spry said, as Thursday was Ascension Day, when Christians marked Jesus Christ’s ascension to Heaven after the 40th day of his resurrection from the dead. St. Jude’s contained a stained glass depiction of this that was imported from England, funded and donated by a Mr. E. McAllister, according to the History of Boundary Churches record book from the Greenwood Museum, Archives and Visitors Centre.

The church was also home to a bell that was brought down from Phoenix, the scaffolding holding it was also lost to the fire.

The parish was already thinking about the future of the church and it’s sad to see it gone, he said. However, this is likely not the end for the site.

“As Christians, we like to think that in every ending there is a new beginning,” he said.

The loss of all these buildings is tragic as all of them had contained some history of the city. Doreen MacLean, president of the Greenwood Heritage Society, said it was tragic all-around, noting the “beautiful” stained glass in St. Jude’s, and the many decades the school operated as a Kindergarten to Grade 12 institution.

She also pointed out the home near St Jude’s has historical significance, as it contained an old log cabin that served as a schoolhouse.

“The front portion of the home was Kerr Creek School, which was brought down around the ‘40s,” she said. “The bell on the church was from St. John’s Anglican Church in Phoenix.”

While losing these pieces of history is tragic, MacLean said she was grateful there was no lives lost.

“I’m glad there was no other harm because this happened at 2:30 in the morning, when everyone’s sleeping,” she said. “I’m thankful there was no wind to blow embers around because this area has a lot of homes and buildings.”

About the Author: Karen McKinley

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