An overnight fire at Rice County's Government Services Building was likely blunted by a police officer who noticed flames coming from the Faribault building's rooftop.

The fire started in a rooftop HVAC unit atop new construction, but was quickly extinguished once gas to the building was shut off, according to Faribault Fire Chief Dustin Dienst. 

The officer saw the fire on the east side of the building around 2 a.m. Thursday, Dienst said. Firefighters, who were on scene within just a couple minutes, found damage to the HVAC unit only, though there was light smoke throughout an area of the building. No one was inside the building at the time and no one was injured.

County Administrator Sara Folsted and County Parks and Facilities Director Jake Rsyavy were on scene early Thursday, assessing needs and prepping for the workday ahead.

Mark Shaw, County Social Services director, said visitors won’t feel the effects of the fire, adding that the entry area for clients is in another portion of the building. All phone lines are open and working, he said.

By 9:20 a.m., Folsted said, all 125 employees affected were either telecommuting or had another space in the building to work from.

A deep cleaning of the building , that will include ductwork is planned for this weekend, said Rsyavy. All employees are expected to be back at their assigned work stations early next week.

Firefighters were on scene for less than an hour, Dienst said, noting how quickly they were able to contain the fire.

The east section of the building is part of a $7.3 million, 19,000-square foot expansion of the Government Services Building that included three new HVAC units. A second two-story addition is under construction on the north side of the building. Work began at the site last fall and was expected to be substantially complete in the coming weeks.

The new construction will allow for expansion of the Social Services and Public Health departments, create private conference areas for staff to speak with clients and make better use of existing space.

Large fans were brought in Thursday morning to help remove smoke from the area, and a cleaning crew worked to eliminate residual odors.

While the state fire marshal was on scene later Thursday morning, Dienst said foul play is not suspected. He also said the amount of damage in the area where the fire began may make it difficult to determine how it started.

Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. Follow her on Twitter @rooksuzy. ©Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved. 

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