OWATONNA — Investigators have ruled that a small blaze discovered burning in a historic building in downtown Owatonna Monday night was intentionally set.
At about 10:30 p.m., the Owatonna Police Department responded to an emergency call to a building on the 100 block of West Vine Street — a building commonly known as the Arnold House — for a fire. Witnesses at the scene reported walking past the building and seeing a fire inside. The witnesses ran to a downtown bar to call 911.
Police officers were the first on scene, followed by the Owatonna Fire Department. Firefighters pulled a smoldering pile from the building, which OFD Commander Kevin Sedivy said contained clothes and other items. The burning pile was placed on the sidewalk in front of the building where it was extinguished. The building, which is abandoned, was searched floor-by-floor by the fire department, but no one was found inside.
Sedivy said Tuesday that the blaze has been ruled as an intentional fire.
“It’s looking that way. The gas and power was shut off in the building and there were no lightning strikes tonight,” Sedivy said.
Who may have started the fire is still under investigation.
Sedivy said that because of the size of the fire and the fact that there was neither loss of life nor severe damage to the building that the fire department would not call the state fire marshal’s office but would handle the investigation internally.
Throughout the search of the building, firefighters used fans to blow smoke out of the building and properly ventilate it. Smoke hung in the air over Vine Street for a short time, but dissipated as the fans did their work. Sedivy said there was some smoke damage on the inside of the building.
According to the Steele County Recorder’s Office, the property is owned by Equity Bank, which is based in Minnetonka but also has a branch in Claremont. Bank representatives could not immediately be reached for comment on the fire.
Sedivy said the property owner has been called to re-secure the property so that no one could get inside the building.
OPD Capt. Eric Rethemeier said there have been unauthorized people in the building before, but said it wasn’t a common occurrence.
Sedivy said it was fortunate that the witnesses to the fire came along when they did. Although there wasn’t a great deal of combustible material in the building, the fire could have grown quickly and destroyed the building had no one been around, Sedivy said.
According to material retrieved by the Steele County Historical Society, the house was erected in 1866 by B.L. Arnold and run as a hotel. It’s not the first fire the building has experienced. In 1901, a fired destroyed half the building, which was never entirely rebuilt, according to historical society records.
Reach reporter Al Strain at 444-2376 or follow him on Twitter.com@OPPalstrain