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Historic Red Lake Mission Church Lost in Weekend Fire

Historic Red Lake Mission Church Lost in Weekend Fire Click to Enlarge

RED LAKE, MN--A weekend fire destroys an historic church in Red Lake. The fire at the St. Mary's Mission Church was first noticed by a police officer as he saw smoke coming from the church just after 2:30am Saturday. The fire department arrived at the scene minutes later. Red Lake Fire Chief Mark Signa told the Bemidji Pioneer firefighters saw flames coming from the church’s southwest corner and tried to enter the building through the basement but were pushed back by heavy smoke and flames. Signa said, "Within a matter of minutes it took off like paper."

The Red Lake Fire Department asked for help and received aid from the Alaska Volunteer Fire Department, which sent two members. Ten Red Lake firefighters also responded, but could not save the church building.

“We actually had to pull back and fight it from the outside,” Signa said. “After we knew that it was unsavable, we changed the plan to protecting the structures around it, and that’s pretty much all we could do.”

The nearby school that serves children from preschool through the sixth grade was not damaged in the fire.

No injuries were reported.

Father Jerry Rogers, who runs the church and school, commented Saturday as he overlooked the charred remains, “The church has been a source of wisdom, and (congregants) have learnt wisdom in its walls. So it’s a death in the family.”

Sunday Mass was held in the school.

The historic church has served the Red Lake Reservation since the 1800's. According to the College of St. Benedict’s website, the St. Mary’s Mission School was founded in 1888 after two Benedictine sisters from the monastery in St. Joseph, Minn., responded to a request from Red Lake to minister on the reservation.

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating the fire. Foul play and arson are not suspected. By law, the Bureau must investigate all church fires to ensure a hate crime has not taken place.

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