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The Memorial Congregational United Church of Christ stood for 100 years in the middle of Cannon Ball before October's wildfires burned it to the ground. All that remained in this October photo was the church's foundation and bell.

Iola Two Hearts was a regular at the Memorial Congregational United Church of Christ until it burned to the ground.

Her grandparents were married there, and it's where she was baptized.

"I was crying," she said of the October day she heard the news after evacuating her hometown of Cannon Ball to escape two wildfires.

Two Hearts cannot attend other churches in Cannon Ball on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation because she said they do not have ramps accessible for her wheelchair. So she sits at home on Sundays watching a church service broadcast on her TV from Arkansas.

She and others involved with the church are hopeful donations can be raised to rebuild the facility.

The Rev. Gordon Rankin, conference minister for the South Dakota Conference of the United Church of Christ, said the church did not carry property insurance, which would have provided funding for a new building. He said the plan is to put up a new facility, though the first priority is to address the nearby cemetery torched by the fires.

The Rev. Mike Kills Pretty Enemy used to drive from his home near McLaughlin, S.D., to lead the services at the church in Cannon Ball, 57 miles away. The afternoon of Oct. 11, he was en route to a funeral in Cherry Creek, S.D., when he realized something significant had happened.

"I said that's got to be a big fire to have this many firetrucks coming," he recalled.

At the funeral, he learned from Facebook that a church had burned but it wasn't until later that he got word it was his. The following Sunday, he drove to the site to survey the damage.

"The fire went around some houses and it looks like it pinpointed our church," he said.

The building stood for 100 years, doubling in size in the 1960s when the Big Lake church south of Cannon Ball moved north to join it. Kills Pretty Enemy, who has been pastor there for 2 1/2 years and also serves at other regional churches, said, at most, four families came to worship.

Since the fire, he has not been up to Cannon Ball to lead any services but said he would be willing to make a trip for a funeral or another event, likely to be held at the Cannon Ball community center.

Wilson Elk said he's been staying at home on Sundays since the church burned. He served as the building's janitor and tends to the Big Lake Cemetery south of town, which also was in the fires' path. He has already rebuilt the fence with new corner posts and wiring with money from the Cannon Ball District.

The blaze burned wooden boxes outlining graves and wooden crosses that served as markers, some of which dated back to the 1800s.

"When the spring comes, I'm going to rebuild them," Elk said.

Two Hearts, meanwhile, has two grandsons ready to be baptized.

"I don't know where they're going to go," she said.

She's hopeful that will change with a new facility.

"We could still rebuild if we have faith in the Lord Almighty that it can be rebuilt," she said.

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(Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8267 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.)

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