BEMIDJI - A fire ripped through the dining hall of Oak Hills Bible Camp in Bemidji on Wednesday afternoon.
Oak Hills program director Brian Eastling reported smoke coming from the building when he arrived at the property south of Bemidji at about 3:30 p.m.
“If we hadn’t been here, it probably would have all gone up and spread,” Eastling said.
The Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office reported there were no people in the building when it caught fire.
The Bemidji Fire Department had the fire contained within an hour. The Solway and Cass Lake fire departments also responded to Bemidji’s call for mutual aid.
“There was significant damage, but we were able to confine the fire and pinch it off,” said Bemidji Fire Chief Dave Hoefer.
The cause of the fire has yet to be determined but it did not look suspicious, Hoefer said.
“They did a really good job of responding quickly,” said Carol Nelson, Oak Hills Christian College executive vice president.
Nelson said the fire is believed to have started in the kitchen, which is where massive flames were most present.
Oak Hills Bible Camp is owned by the Oak Hills Christian College. The summer camp has been in operation since 1926; the college dates back to 1946.
Eastling said manmade lagoon firefighters were drawing water from to douse the fire contained fish and minnows. A 15-person fishing retreat had just wrapped up Wednesday morning. Another retreat was scheduled for this weekend.
“We’re just thankful nobody was in the building,” Nelson said. “We’ll have time to rebuild before next summer.”
Nelson said the camp hosts 500 visitors during a 10-week span in the summer months. College students were not affected by Wednesday’s fire.