NEW INFORMATION: Fire that destroyed church traced to gas tank

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MENOMONIE, Wis. (AP) -- An explosion and fire that destroyed a historic church in Dunn County has been traced to a gas tank.

Fire investigators say there's nothing suspicious or criminal about the LP gas explosion that left the 99-year-old church near Colfax a charred pile of rubble.

A passer-by called the Dunn County Sheriff's Department Saturday about 9 p.m. to report the fire at St. John's Lutheran Church.

The 60-member congregation is worshiping at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in nearby Ridgeland.

TOWN OF GRANT, Wis. (WEAU) -- It was a terrifying Sunday for a local church as a shocking explosion and fire destroyed their beloved historic building.

Fire crews were called to St. John's Lutheran Church in rural Dunn County around 9 p.m. Saturday night, battling the blaze well into the morning.

For the past 99 years, St. John's Popple Creek has been a big part of people's lives in the area.

“Most of us were baptized and confirmed here, some were married here. It's been a big part of our families for generations,” said Bruce Winget, President of the St. John’s Church Council.

Winget said that’s why so many were horrified to hear the news that the historic landmark had exploded and burned to the ground.

“I looked up and could see the flames,” said Dave Gaunky, a witness to the fire.

Seeing the incredible site from his home nearby, Gaunky and his wife called 911, rushed to the church and snapped pictures of the fire.

“I headed up as close as I could get safely to the fire and yelled out to see if anybody was there. The flames were just pouring out of the building, ” Gaunky said.

Six local fire departments assisted Colfax in battling the holy inferno.

“It was really hard to watch that church blow up,” Gaunky said.
But most of the damage had already been done.

The explosion was so powerful it blew off the church's roof and crumpled it up in the churchyard cemetery.

Sunday afternoon, investigators from the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department and the State Fire Marshal’s Office were on the scene trying to determine a cause.

“It was an explosion. Natural gas, some type of gas exploded,” said Matthew Feeney, a Fire Investigator with Dunn County.

Pastor John Toppe told WEAU that the last time anyone was in the build was sometime Saturday afternoon but he doesn't know if anything was left on.

“At this time nothing appears suspicious,” Feeney said.

Though St. John’s is a total loss, fortunately, no one was hurt.

“It could have happened today during our church service, but it didn't,” Winget said.

The church said it's taking things one day at a time and is looking for a spot for its 75 members to come together once again.

“We still have our congregation. We still have our faith, and you can't take that away from us,” Winget said.

The fire is still under investigation.

COLFAX, Wis-- Colfax Fire Department was called to a fully involved fire at St. Johns Lutheran Church in the town of Grant eary Sunday morning. Fire Fighters had to be rotated because of the cold weather and crews continued to monitor the scene to look for hot spots in to the afternoon. The church is considered a total loss. The fire is under investigation.

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