A church that has been part of a central Ontario community for more than 140 years has been heavily damaged in a fire authorities suspect may have been deliberately set.

Smoke could be seen pouring out of All Saints’ Anglican Church in Whitby at around 5 a.m yesterday morning.

Durham police say by the time firefighters arrived on the scene, flames had overwhelmed the landmark, causing heavy damage to the building’s structure.

It’s also feared the fire may have destroyed about 90 Christmas hampers put together by the congregation for families in need.

Sgt. Nancy Van Rooy of Durham regional police says they are treating the blaze as suspicious due to evidence found at the scene.

The fire marshal’s office has been called in to investigate if the blaze is arson, but officials say it is too early to draw any conclusions.

A caretaker at the church told CTV News that when he arrived at the scene yesterday morning, he saw a red gas can on the ground near the building.

Congregants of the church say the building has undergone significant renovations over the past year and there have been several incidents of vandalism in recent months.

Whitby Mayor Pat Perkins called the fire “devastating.

“It’s a beautiful, historic building. It’s been a landmark here for over 140 years and so to see this happen to it is just terrible,” Perkins said.

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