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Suspicious Olivia, Minn., fire decimates home, kills therapy dog

Authorities in Olivia are investigating a fire that destroyed Jordana Wenzel’s home Monday night as arson. Wenzel lost all of her possessions in the fire and is now seeking help to find a place to live. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

OLIVIA — A fire being investigated as arson has left two Olivia residents without a home and their possessions and took the life of the owner’s therapy dog.

The Monday night fire destroyed a mobile home owned by Jordana Wenzel, 63. Wenzel is a transvestite, and said there is the possibility that she was the target of a hate crime.

“I have had been threatened by a couple of different people over the past year and a half and it’s possible that it could be a hate crime. I don’t know,” Wenzel said.

Wenzel said it’s also possible that his roommate, a 44-year-old man he declined to identify, was the intended target.

Neither Wenzel or the roommate were in the mobile home when the fire was reported about 10:30 p.m. Monday.

Flames were already shooting through the roof of the structure in a mobile home park on Hickory Avenue on the city’s north side when Olivia fire fighters arrived at the scene.

Wenzel said the firefighters knocked down the fire, but returned again in the early morning hours to fight a second blaze at the site. Both the first and second fires were believed to have been arson, Wenzel said.

The Olivia Police Department issued a statement Wednesday saying the preliminary investigation determined that the fire was suspicious and is considered to be arson.

Responding officers reported finding two sets of footprints in the snow. Wenzel believes the fire was set underneath a corner of the structure.

Wenzel had a therapy dog, a Chihuahua named princess, who perished. Both occupants lost their clothing, furnishings and personal items. Wenzel said the loss of a battery-powered, four-wheeled scooter she uses to get around is especially difficult. She has a number of health problems and has difficulty walking.

Wenzel and the roommate are staying with different friends in Olivia. Wenzel did not have insurance on the mobile home or its contents, and said she will now need to find a place to stay. Sandy Mundy, a friend, is putting Wenzel up in her apartment but the landlord informed her that her lease allows for Wenzel to stay only five days.

The fire is the second currently under investigation in Olivia. An arson that destroyed the Renville County Food Shelf, Hair Connections and Red Cross office in Olivia’s downtown in September, 2012, remains under active investigation. Information on the latest fire should be forwarded to the Olivia Police Department at 320-523-2700; the state arson hotline at 1-800-723-2020; or Renville Crime Stoppers at 1-800-720-3790.

Donations to assist the fire victims can be sent to Citizens State Bank Olivia, 111 South 10th Street, Olivia, MN 56277.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335