MENOMONIE — An explosion that turned an historic church in northeastern Dunn County into a fireball has been traced to a LP gas tank.
Around 9 p.m. Saturday, area firefighters swarmed St. John’s Lutheran Church on County Highway W, about 10 miles north of Colfax. Also known as St. John’s Popple Creek, the building was 99 years old.
A passerby who called the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office said he saw a fire in the northeast corner of the building and noticed that the front of the church was lying on the ground. The highway was covered with glass.
A woman approached a deputy on the scene of the fire and reported that she had been doing some cleaning at the church earlier in the day and noticed an odor. Checking the furnaces and hot water heater, she said she could see the pilot lights, and everything appeared to be in working order.
Attributing the smell to recent new construction on the front part of the structure, she still called Bruce Winget, president of St. John’s Church Council, who went to the building to check things out for himself.
Winget told the deputy that he could smell gas in the front entry, but it wasn’t as strong as in the basement or furnace room and thought it might have been from the wind blowing the exhaust back in from the vent pipe to the outside.
“It was in an area where there were no gas appliances,” Winget said, noting the good fortune that no one was in the building at the time.
In the meantime, the 60-member congregation will be worshipping at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Ridgeland, which is also served by their pastor, John Toppe. Winget said neighboring churches have also offered them space.
“We still have our faith,” he declared. “We’ve lost memorials, but we still have our memories. There’s a pretty good chance we will rebuild.”
On Monday, Dunn County Fire Investigator Matt Feeney determined that there was nothing criminal or suspicious about the LP explosion.
In addition to the Colfax Fire Department, units from Boyceville, Ridgeland, Elk Mound, Sand Creek and Menomonie provided mutual assistance that included manpower, tenders and river pumps. Because of the cold temperatures Saturday night, firefighters were rotated through the scene.
The Town of Grant helped with sanding area roads, while the Dunn County Sheriff’s office assisted with traffic control.