By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF GRANT — Tragedy struck Saturday evening when St. John Lutheran Church — also known locally as Popple Creek Church — burned to the ground.
The church, located north of Colfax about 10 miles on County Highway W in the Town of Grant, was a total loss.
According to a news release from the Colfax Fire Department, firefighters were paged to a fully-involved structure fire at the church at 9:41 p.m. on Saturday, January 12.
Upon arrival at the scene, the Mutual Aid Box Assistance System (MABAS) was activated, and assistance was requested from the fire departments in Boyceville, Ridgeland, Elk Mound, Sand Creek, Menomonie and Prairie Farm.
The Colfax Rescue Squad also was called out to respond to the fire.
“Fire departments assisted with additional manpower, tenders and river pumps. Due to the cold weather and safety (issues), firefighters were rotated through,” according to the news release.
Temperatures Saturday night dropped to zero or close to zero, and a wind out of the north/northwest created wind chills far below zero.
According to the fire department news release, the Town of Grant assisted with sanding the roads, and the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department assisted with traffic control.
Dean Logslett, a member of the Colfax Fire Department, said firefighters were still at the scene Sunday afternoon watching for flare-ups and hotspots.
Because of the extreme cold weather, the fire departments experienced problems with valves freezing up on the fire trucks, he said.
Don Logslett, Dean’s brother and the Colfax fire chief, was unavailable for comment Monday morning.
The state fire marshal was at the Popple Creek Church Sunday afternoon conducting an investigation of the fire, Dean Logslett said.
Tom Best of Colfax made the 911 call to report the fire at the Popple Creek Church.
Best said he had been at the home of his son, Justin, on county Highway S Saturday evening watching the Green Bay Packer game on television.
Best said he was on his way home at half-time and drove past the church.
“I noticed it when I was just about by it. Something didn’t look right,” Best said.
Best backed up his vehicle and saw the church’s new entryway lying on the ground.
This past summer, the congregation at Popple Creek began building a new entryway onto the church.
Best said he backed up a little bit more and saw pieces of glass lying all over.
And then, Best said, he could see fire in the windows of the church.
“I tried to call 911, but I could not get a signal right there (on a cell phone),” Best said.
Best drove a half mile down the road until he was able to get a cellular signal and then called 911 to report the fire.
Best’s son only lives a few miles from the church.
“By the time I got back to my son’s place, there was just a big ball of fire in the sky … it went up in a big hurry,” he said.
Sunday afternoon when the state fire marshal was on the scene investigating the cause of the fire, Best said he had been asked to go back to the church to give investigators a statement about what he had seen.
“What with trying to get a hold of 911, I did not think to get a picture of the fire with my cell phone,” Best said.
Best also did not get a chance to watch the rest of the Packer game.
“It was lucky that it happened when it did and not when there were people in the church,” Best said, adding that he had heard there were women at the church cleaning earlier in the day.
Bruce Winget, president of the St. John Lutheran Church Council, said it was too early to say whether the congregation was going to rebuild the church.
“We need to meet with the insurance adjusters yet … we definitely want to rebuild, but I don’t know if we will. We’ll have to see,” Winget said.
Dick Johnson, a lifelong resident of the Town of Grant and a member at Popple Creek Church, brought in pictures of the church to the Colfax Messenger.
The new entryway on the church was all but finished and only needed some trim work to be completed, Johnson said.
Johnson also brought in a church cookbook that contains the following church history:
“The first services of the St. John congregation, Popple Creek, were given in the German language in the year 1884. These services were held in the home of the members for 15 years.
“From 1899-1914 services were conducted in the Popple Creek school house.
“In the year 1913, the congregation decided to build a church. Carl Abraham, Lewis Dietsch and Gust Sonnenberg were appointed on the building committee. Members of the congregation and non-members, neighbors, and village businessmen of Colfax donated money to build the church. A total of $3,268 was reached, and the church was completed on October 1, 1914.
“In 1922, our church joined with St. Katherine and Beyer Settlement and Iron Creek.
“In 1958, the congregation added a furnace room and coat room to the front of the church. In 1964, a kitchen addition was completed. In 1967 new lights, a water system and water piped to the church and a gas furnace was installed to heat the upstairs. New divider curtains were put up in the basement for Sunday school rooms. In 1971, the entire church was carpeted except the kitchen. During the year 1984, carpet was installed in the kitchen.
“The Ladies Aid was started in 1914. On December 17, 1919, a constitution was adopted. The Ladies Aid joined the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society in 1965.
“We have worked, lived and loved with 22 different pastors. We most humbly thank God for our many years of services and pray for continued blessings and divine guidance.”
Reverend John Toppe, the pastor at St. John Lutheran Church (Popple Creek), was unable to be reached for comments Monday morning.