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No cause found in blaze that destroyed Pisek, N.D., landmark

A fire destroyed the former Terra Cotta Ballroom in Pisek, ND, in late May. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
Terra Cotta Ballroom before the fire. Submitted photo by Jerry Slinger2 / 2

The cause of a fire that recently destroyed a historic Pisek, N.D., building has been ruled “undetermined,” according to a state fire marshal report.

The former Terra Cotta Ballroom, remembered by many as a center of the Pisek community, was lost in an early morning fire May 26.

According to the report, the fire could have started at an oven. At least one of the stove’s burners was likely on at the time of the fire, according to the report, and the oven was likely in cleaning mode, which would cause it heat up.

Bruce Langerud, the deputy state fire marshal who investigated the case, said the oven, as well as the rest of the building, was too damaged to determine the fire’s actual cause.

“There wasn’t enough left of the building to make a determination,” he said.

Fire report

In recent years, the ballroom, built in the 1950s, had been converted into an apartment and was undergoing renovations by its owner, Jerry Slinger, of Pisek.

Slinger rented the apartment to Myron Swenning, according to the report.

The report states that Swenning called 911 about 5 a.m. and also went to a firefighter’s house to report the fire.

Swenning reportedly told Langerud that he did not think he had used the stove or oven that night, but that he didn’t remember a lot about the night of the fire because he may have had a diabetic episode.

According to the report, Slinger had been trying to evict Swenning for more than one year and had recently gotten a court-ordered eviction notice for Swenning to be out by May 27, the day after the fire. The report states that Slinger asked his lawyer if the tenant could be evicted immediately, instead of having a week’s notice, “because he was afraid of what could happen to his building” if Swenning stayed for one more week.

When reached by phone Monday, Slinger, who owns Interstate Towing in Grand Forks, said he could not comment on the fire report due to possible pending legal action.

The fire caused a loss of about half a million dollars, Slinger said. He added that cleanup for the remains of the ballroom is postponed for now, because of the possible legal action.

To the state, this case is closed, Langerud said.


Several Pisek residents remember the Terra Cotta Ballroom as a center of the community from the 1950s through the 1990s, said Larry Kadlec, a farmer who has lived near Pisek his entire life.

“It was the center of all activities for the city,” Kadlec said.

He remembered attending dances, church dinners, basketball games and political rallies there, he said.

Jean Bodmer, a Grafton resident who grew up near Pisek, shared similar memories of the ballroom. “Anything that I attended there I always enjoyed. It was just a wonderful community place,” she said, adding that it was “amazing for a town that size.”

The population of Pisek is about 100, and it is about 50 miles northwest of Grand Forks.

“Something like that, it was good for the community,” Kadlec said of the ballroom, “and it’s empty now.”

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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