Police have launched a preliminary investigation into a fire that completely destroyed a centuries-old wooden church in eastern Finland. The authorities say they have reason to believe that the blaze that levelled the Kiihtelysvaara church was intentionally started, and so the crime is being investigated as a case of aggravated property damage.
The suspicion of arson stems from the reports of several witnesses, who said they observed flames on the outside walls of the building and only smoke inside the church at first.
"Today we will try and gather as many photos and videos from the first people that arrived at the scene as we can. Technical researchers will arrive on Monday with fire investigation dogs," said Kimmo Vetterström from the Joensuu Police Department.
The technical team will be able to determine if any flammable liquids were used to start the blaze, for example. Police say there is still a chance that the fire could have gotten its start in the church's electrical hub, as it is located near where the first people on the scene saw the fire.
"The fire spread quickly. When the rescue services arrived at 5 in the morning, there was little left for them to do to save the church," reported Tanja Perkkiö, Yle's journalist on the scene.
The news agency STT reports that a quick-thinking property maintenance employee saved the church's altarpiece and its eighteenth century communion cups before the building was lost.
Fire-fighting units from the neighbouring municipalities of Hammaslahti, Ilomantsi, Joensuu, Kiihtelysvaara and Reijola all responded to the alarm. No one was injured in the incident.