Century-Old Dunn County Church Destroyed in Fire

DUNN CENTER — A lightning strike to its steeple set a 100-year-old church ablaze Monday evening in rural Dunn County.

The Vang Lutheran Church, which maintained a small congregation despite ending regular Sunday services in 2010, was destroyed by the fire.

“You just trust the Lord knows what’s best for the congregation,” said Dave Nodland, one of the church’s few remaining members.

The church opened in 1916 about 6 miles southeast of Dunn Center following eight years of planning and construction. The earliest parishioners were Norwegian immigrants who moved to the area from Renville County, Minn., and the church served generations of central Dunn County Lutheran families, former state Sen. George Nodland said.

“It was basically an icon to the county,” said Halliday Fire Chief Joey Bogers, who responded to the fire.

Dunn County Commission Chairman Reinhard Hauck — who was baptized there — said Tuesday the church only recently officially closed as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s Western North Dakota Synod.

Hauck and Dave Nodland said because of the building’s deterioration — it was badly damaged by hail a few years ago — families who were stakeholders in the church had started talking about its eventual fate.

“We were still struggling with that,” Dave Nodland said. “I guess the good Lord made the decision for us. … Nobody wanted to see it close because it was a landmark for generations.”

Around 30 firefighters responded to the fire after it was reported around 7:30 p.m., Bogers said, adding he could see the fire from three miles away.

Dave Nodland said he and other congregation members told firefighters to let the church burn after the blaze spread beyond the steeple and fire trucks began running out of water.

“It was at the point where you just couldn’t fight it,” he said.

The church burned to the ground within two hours, Bogers said.

“You think of all the lightning storms there have been in the last 100 years and finally one struck,” Dave Nodland said.

Denise Brew, the county’s emergency manager, called the church fire is “devastating” to locals.

“It’s that one church everybody in the county knew of,” she said. “It was the beacon of the county down there.”

George Nodland said he was baptized at the Vang Lutheran Church and has about 40 relatives buried in the church’s cemetery, which he said will continue to be maintained.

His grandfather was one of the church’s founders, and said services were held at the family’s home while the church was being constructed.

“It has quite a history,” he said.

Shortly before Memorial Day, George Nodland said he visited the church after tidying up his relative’s gravesites.

“I went into the church and looked at some stuff,” he said. “I made a comment to my wife, ‘Somebody should get that stuff out of there.’ It was getting old.”

A few items were spared, Dave Nodland said, including the baptismal fountain, and some pictures and communion items. However, the pews and the altar — which he said the congregation hoped to save — were completely lost in the fire.

George Nodland said he went through a range of emotions Tuesday as he learned more about the fire and the remains of the church his family helped build.

“It means a lot to me,” he said.

Target Logistics to temporarily close Dunn County crew camp

MANNING — Target Logistics is temporarily closing its massive crew camp in southern Dunn County, the company said Wednesday.

Citing dwindling capacity and low oil prices, the company says plans to close the nearly 600-bed crew camp 8 miles north of Dickinson and reopen in late spring or early summer.

“The capacity is down, somewhat due to the oil situation and somewhat due to the weather,” said Randy Pruett with Pierpont Communications, which provides media relations for Target Logistics. “This is not uncommon throughout the crew camp industry.”

Pruett said he didn’t know exactly when the camp was closing, but said those staying there were being relocated to other Target Logistics properties in North Dakota.

The news was announced earlier in the day at the Dunn County Commission meeting.

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Fulfilling a favor: Paralyzed Keene man takes last mountain lion of season in N.D. with help of his friends

From left to right, Beau Wisness, Dusty Hausauer, Chase Wisness, Rusty Christophersen, Chaston Lee and Hailey Schaper pose with the mountain lion that Chase Wisness, who is paralyzed from the waist down, killed on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. It was the last mountain lion allowed to be hunted in western North Dakota this year. Special to the Forum
From left to right, Beau Wisness, Dusty Hausauer, Chase Wisness, Rusty Christophersen, Chaston Lee and Hailey Schaper pose with the mountain lion that Chase Wisness, who is paralyzed from the waist down, killed on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. It was the last mountain lion allowed to be hunted in western North Dakota this year. Special to the Forum

It was late July 2008 when Levi Wisness asked his friend, Rusty Christophersen, to do him a favor.

Levi wanted Christophersen to help his younger brother, Chase, hunt a mountain lion in the North Dakota Badlands.

“He goes, ‘Do you ever think we could get Chase in on one?’” Christophersen recalled on Wednesday. “I said yeah, I’ll do everything I could do to get him one.”

Levi Wisness died a week later in his sleep from complications related to a brain tumor he’d been battling for nearly a year.

At the time,17-year-old Chase’s future was uncertain.

He had been paralyzed from the waist down, the result of an auto accident in June 2007 — just months before his brother was diagnosed with the tumor.

“It was pretty cool he thought of me then and it was cool that Rusty was serious when he said we could do it,” Chase said on Saturday.

Over the past month, Christophersen did everything he could to fulfill the favor.

Last Monday, he and about a dozen friends capped off more than three weeks of tracking, scouting and hunting to help Chase, 24, of Keene, hunt and kill a 100-pound female mountain lion near Grassy Butte.

It was the last mountain lion allowed to be hunted this year in the state Game and Fish Department’s western North Dakota zone.

“It finally worked out,” Christophersen said.

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Bismarck homicide suspect found dead in park

LITTLE MISSOURI STATE PARK — The suspect in a Bismarck homicide was found dead by apparent suicide in the Little Missouri State Park north of Killdeer early Monday morning.

Dunn County Sheriff Clay Coker said the body of Kirk Kwasniewski, 35, was found in an open-air pavilion about 50 yards from where his vehicle had been located earlier by a deputy following a 911 hangup.

At 1:09 a.m. Monday, a Bismarck woman living on the 600 block of North 22nd Street, called police to report Kwasniewski was in her home threatening her with a gun. She found her boyfriend, 30-year-old Caine Fischer, of Bismarck, dead in the home. She told police Kwasniewski had fled.

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$80K worth of oil stolen in Dunn County

KILLDEER — A Dunn County roustabout service is estimating that $80,000 worth of crude oil was stolen from tanks it maintains at two well sites north of Dunn Center.
Greg Krueger, the owner of K&R Roustabout, said he reported the theft of about 760 barrels of oil to the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office on July 1.

“Somebody is going in there and taking oil,” Krueger said.

Cornerstone Natural Resources owns the wells, but Krueger said a K&R pumper was the first to raise a red flag after the amount of oil calculated in tanks at two different sites came up short and didn’t match truck tickets.

Under North Dakota law, the theft would be considered a Class B felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of $10,000, or both.

Krueger said throughout the past two weeks, he has been “disheartened” by the effort being put into the investigation by the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office. He said no one responded to his initial report until July 4.

“It bummed me out that the guys aren’t taking it serious,” Krueger said.

Dunn County Sheriff Clay Coker said his office is investigating the alleged theft, adding theft is the most probable answer to the missing oil because a seal to one tank was missing and a seal at another was broken. The sheriff’s office is unsure of the exact dates the thefts occurred, but they are believed to have occurred over a weekend, Coker said.

Krueger said he thinks the thefts happened at night, adding that the well sites where the tanks are located are in secluded, rough terrain areas near the Little Missouri State Park.

K&R has set up motion-activated cameras typically used for monitoring wildlife at well sites, Krueger said, to help prevent further losses.

“We just hope to hell they come back and we catch them on the game cam,” Krueger said. “I’d like to catch them. They’re going to go to jail for a long time.”

North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman Alison Ritter said her office’s production audit department is aware of missing oil and is doing their part to help the investigation.

“Like anything else, it’s a valuable property,” Ritter said. “But the big thing where we would come in is if we could look at other run tickets we receive, and if anything seems off where we could provide a lead, we could do that.”

Dunn County Airport hangar destroyed, planes overturned

an airplane that was overturned by wind sits upside down at the Weydahl Field Dunn County Airport, where the hangar was also destroyed.

One of the more shocking scenes in the aftermath of Monday evening’s storm in Dunn County was the damage to Weydahl Field, commonly known as the Dunn County Airport on the north side of Killdeer.

The airport, which has seen a surge in usage because of oil activity in the area and was in the process of being improved, suffered a huge setback Monday when winds that reached up to 85 mph, overturning airplanes and completely destroying the hangar, leaving only the terminal intact.

“I think it’s a real tragedy because the people that own those airplanes have helped tremendously in the effort to help rebuild the hangar and the whole airport in general,” said Mike Schollmeyer, the vice chairman of the Dunn County Airport Authority. “It’s a lot of hard work that just got blown away. I feel really bad for everybody that’s put so much time in up there.”

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Killdeer Area Ambulance Service working to keep up with oil’s impact

Killdeer Area Ambulance Service Manager Ann Hafner, left, chats with squad leader Stephanie Bren on the steps of the service’s newly aquired ambulance on Thursday during an open house and groundbreaking for the service’s new ambulance station.

KILLDEER — Ann Hafner knew she wanted to become an ambulance volunteer after her sister-in-law, living in another state, died of an asthma attack when the ambulance responding to the call got lost en route.

“I didn’t want that to happen to anybody,” Hafner said.

Several years later, Hafner is living up to that goal as the manager of the Killdeer Area Ambulance Service.

However, she said it is becoming more difficult as the oil industry in the Bakken increasingly rears its booming head on the Killdeer landscape.

“It’s all coming this way,” Hafner said. “We have days when, ‘What’s going to happen next?’”

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