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Ylivieska church destroyed in fire, suspected arson

A 230-year-old church in the Northern Ostrobothnian city of Ylivieska burned to the ground late Saturday night. A local man has been apprehended by police and has confessed to arson. Despite the destruction, a church service was held as planned amid the smoking ruins at midnight.

Messu Ylivieskan palaneen kirkon luona pääsiäisyönä.
Easter service was held outdoors in the church ruins. Image: Jussi Leppälä

A centuries-old wooden church in Ylivieska, Northern Ostrobothnia was completely destroyed by fire late Saturday night. Police have taken custody of one local man, born in the 1980s, who has confessed to arson.

Easter mass was meant to take place at 11 pm inside the church, but flames erupted from the 230-year-old building just after 7 pm on Saturday. The fire was witnessed by dozens of local onlookers, who reportedly interfered with the Rescue Department's firefighting measures.

"There were fender-benders and other problems on the main road, and the fire department had trouble accessing the site. People acted very irresponsibly, parking their cars on the bridge where they blocked the way," a local resident told Yle.

Service under the stars

Ylivieska worshippers were not deterred by the conflagration, however, and an Easter service was held outdoors at the site while the church still smouldered. Some 500 people gathered at a makeshift altar among the ruins, with Bishop Samuel Salmi officiating.

"People were saddened and aghast," says church spokesperson Jussi Leppälä. "This was an important church for so many local residents. But we still celebrated the spirit of the Easter with sermons and ultimately, with feelings of hope."

Police are not commenting on the exact cause of the fire as yet, although arson is suspected. The church was entirely destroyed by the fire, along with a number of valuable artworks including an altarpiece from 1897 by the famous artist Sigurd Wettenhovi-Aspa.

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