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Authorities seek tips about trash bin fires

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Police Department and Willmar Fire Department are seeking information about the person or persons responsible for setting deliberate fires in large trash containers at the Fairview and Evergreen Ridge apartment complexes near Ridgewater College in Willmar.

According to a news release from Willmar Area Crime Stoppers, two fires this week were similar to a series of fires in November and December 2008. The fires happened on the following dates:

- 3:40 a.m., Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008;

- 3:04 a.m., Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008, fires at both complexes at the same time;

- 2:19 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008;

- 2:55 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., Monday, Dec. 15, 2008;

- 3:31 a.m., Monday, April 27, 2009; and

- 3:21 a.m., Friday, May 1, 2009.

Police Investigator Kris Kolstad said that damage has been minimal because the fires have been contained within the trash bins. However, each fire call costs city taxpayers about $800 for the Fire Department's response.

In one of the November fires, a resident's vehicle was damaged by heat from the nearby fire. Kolstad said the potential for injuries to firefighters or area residents is a concern.

It's also possible the person may escalate and set fire to other, higher-risk targets. This makes it very important that anyone with knowledge about the fires report the information right away, according to the release.

Willmar Fire Chief Marv Calvin said, "Responding to fires puts our firefighters at great risk."

Late-night calls interrupt the sleep cycles of the city's on-call firefighters, he said, interfering with their efficiency and their family life.

"While we are more than willing to respond for real emergencies, when fires are deliberately set, they are inexcusable," Calvin said.

Anyone with information about the fires is asked to call the Minnesota Arson Hot Line at 1-800-723-2020 or Willmar Area Crime Stoppers at 320-235-3640.

Callers are not required to reveal their identity. Crime information which leads to an arrest and prosecution may entitle them to a cash reward.

People with information may also contact Calvin at 320-235-1354 or Kolstad at the Willmar Police Department, 320-235-2244.