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Published April 19, 2012, 09:35 PM

'97 Flood, Downtown Fire Couldn't Keep Residents Down

GRAND FORKS (WDAZ-TV) - Fifteen years ago, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were battling floodwater from a rising Red River. But adding to those water worries, a fire broke out downtown Grand Forks destroying numerous businesses.

GRAND FORKS (WDAZ-TV) - Fifteen years ago, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were battling floodwater from a rising Red River. But adding to those water worries, a fire broke out downtown Grand Forks destroying numerous businesses.

Jon Bonzer's sandwich pub was located at 12 North 4th Street. On April 19, 1997, Bonzer watched helplessly as his business caught fire.

Like many others in Grand Forks, Bonzer and his family followed orders and evacuated the town. It was in the car on the way to Fargo when he tried to shed some light on a difficult day.

"I tried to bring a little levity to the situation and I said to my wife 'all we need now is a fire to hit,'" Bonzer said.

But little did he know, a fire was raging downtown at the Security Building.

"I parked in my sister-in-law's driveway, got out of the car and the first thing my sister in law said to me was 'come quick, Grand Forks is on the TV and downtown is burning,'" Bonzer said.

Wind that day quickly spread the fire north and sparks ignited a blaze at Bonzer's. Jon Bonzer saw his bar ablaze on TV and broke down.

"We just kind of all sat there in awe and of course everybody was in tears and crying and nobody said anything because nobody knew what to say. We just sat there and absorbed it," Bonzer said.

In the days and weeks to follow, Bonzer and many other business owners downtown had big decisions to make.

"Did a lot of church going this time," Bonzer said.

Though many chose to move away from Grand Forks, Bonzer says his family considered that option, but decided they couldn't leave.

"Grand Forks was our place and we weren't going to give up on Grand Forks. After talking to people in the city, we knew Grand Forks wasn't going to give up on us," Bonzer said.

Just one month later he rebuilt his bar downtown at 420 Demers Avenue.

"The people of this town have a lot to be proud of. Every single one of the people in this town for pulling up their boot straps and doing what they did. It was no small task to rebuild this place," Bonzer said.

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