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Charly Haley, Forum News Service, Published October 21 2013

Valley City church heavily damaged by fire

VALLEY CITY, N.D. — An early morning fire at a church here Monday caused upward of $1 million in damage, leaving a congregation heartbroken.

The first 911 call of the blaze at Faith Lutheran Church came in at 3:41 a.m., said Gary Retterath, Valley City fire chief.

When he arrived on scene at 251 4th St. NE, there was fire and smoke coming out of the east side of the building, where its main entrance and some offices are, Retterath said.

“There was smoke and heat all over,” he said.

With about 24 firefighters working, the fire was out in about four hours, he said.

Retterath remained on scene through the afternoon, assisting a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent and a state fire marshal with the investigation.

The cause of the fire was unknown Monday.

No one was at the church at the time of the fire, so no one was hurt, Retterath said. Judging by the amount of damage, the fire “had to have been burning for a while” before the first call, he said.

“I think everyone is pretty heartbroken,” said Tory Hart, council president for the church.

The about 900-member congregation is fortunate, though, Hart said, because its members are strong and working toward recovery.

Faith Lutheran Church’s council met Monday and designated a building committee to handle the fire’s aftermath, including possibly repairing and rebuilding, Hart said.

Retterath said the building may be salvageable.

“I would say it is, but it would take a lot of work,” he said.

Amidst figuring that out, Faith Lutheran’s services and programs will continue, Hart said. The church will hold worship and other programs Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church.

A plan for regular worship services and office locations will be determined later this week.

Valley City Police Chief Fred Thompson was also on scene Monday afternoon.

Authorities are looking into the possibility of the fire being connected to a recent string of church burglaries in Valley City, but “it’s too early to tell,” Thompson said.

“It’s certainly an interesting coincidence,” he said.

Over the weekend of Sept. 28-29, the Valley City Police Department was called to Trinity Lutheran Church, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, the Congregational United Church of Christ and Faith Lutheran Church to investigate burglaries.

Faith Lutheran Church, the site of Monday’s fire, was burglarized twice.

Thompson said earlier this month that he believes all of the church burglaries were the work of the same person or people, due to similarities observed at the scenes.

Faith Lutheran Church is holding a congregational meeting Wednesday to pray outside the church building at 6 p.m., and will meet and share a meal at afterward in the basement of St. Catherine’s Church, Hart said.

Donation funds for Faith Lutheran Church have been set up at both Dacotah Bank and Bank Forward in Valley City.

Forum News Service reporter Cali Owings contributed to this report.