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Willmar, Minn., equipment dealer assessing fire damage

The exterior of the Arnold’s building located on U.S. Highway 71 south of Willmar on Friday appeared unharmed by the Thursday night fire which damaged a shop at the back of the building. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)2 / 2

WILLMAR — Arnold’s of Willmar was offering “very limited” services Friday morning and officials at the Case IH dealership are accessing the fire and smoke damage caused by Thursday evening’s fire at the shop.

The building has extensive smoke and soot damage and has limited electrical power, according to Kraig DeJong, the store manager. DeJong has been working with fire investigators and insurance officials this morning and is gathering key decision-makers for the business to assess the situation.

“We are trying to keep going to serve our customers,” he said, adding that all the doors and windows of the shop are open in an effort to ventilate the smoke for employee safety. “We need to take care of our employees as well as our customers.”

Because the fire was located in the shop, there is smoke smell and soot in the main lobby and parts service area, where most of the customers are served, he said.

The cause of the fire, which was reported at 8:23 p.m. Thursday, is under investigation, according to Willmar Fire Chief Gary Hendrickson. However, the suspected cause is a mechanical issue with a piece of machinery in the building.

Hendrickson said the investigation had eliminated any suspicion of arson or malice. The Willmar department and fire crews from Blomkest, Spicer, Raymond, Kandiyohi, Pennock and Lake Lillian responded to the scene Thursday night just outside the Willmar city limits on U.S. Highway 71 South. Fire crews remained on the scene until around 1 a.m. Friday, Hendrickson said.

DeJong commended the fire department crews and said Arnold’s has received support from friends, customers and local businesses.

“I had people at the front door this morning offering to help,” he said. “That says a lot.”

This is the second recent disaster incident for the shop, which was damaged in the July 11, 2008, tornado that passed along the south side of Willmar. DeJong noted that he thought the business had finally finished dealing with the lingering impacts of the tornado, only to have another challenge with the fire and aftermath.

“I never thought I’d deal with that again,” he said, expressing resolve to make it through again. “We’ll make it through with help from the community.”

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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