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UPDATE: Fire damages historic Bonanzaville church

The burned facade of the St. John's Lutheran Church Saturday at the Bonanzaville pioneer village west of West Fargo. Photo by Nick Wagner/The Forum

WEST FARGO — Fire damaged the historic St. John’s Lutheran Church at the Bonanzaville pioneer village here Saturday morning.

The fire damaged the front of the wooden building, its steeple and one of the pews inside.

West Fargo firefighters responded to two calls about smoke and fire on the church’s west side around 4:30 a.m., said West Fargo Fire Chief Roy Schatschneider.

It took them hours to contain the fire, and there were still a few “hot spots” in the church’s steeple by 10 a.m, the chief said.

Reaching the steeple wasn’t easy, and Schatschneider said firefighters had to cut a hole in it with a chainsaw to spray water inside.

An investigator arrived on the site around 9 a.m., but the cause of the fire is still unknown.

The church is more than 100 years old and was originally built northwest of Horace near the turn of the 20th century.

Services were held at that site until 1967, when the remaining congregation merged with the Horace Lutheran Church and donated the St. John’s church to Bonanzaville.

It’s the cornerstone of the pioneer village and is still the site of many weddings.

Schatschneider said the fire only extended 10 to 15 feet into the church’s west side, and only one pew was heavily damaged. The rest of the church’s inside area only suffered smoke and water damage, he said.

It appeared the fire had started on the main floor, but the fire chief said that could change as the investigation unfolds.

Schatschneider said he couldn’t put a dollar amount on the damages but added he was surprised the fire didn’t do more to the old building.

“When you get fire in a building that age, it usually ends up in a total loss,” he said.

Matthew Von Pinnon

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum.

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