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Steaming pizza billboard is not on fire, says Minnesota police after reports

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MOUNDS VIEW, Minn. — A steaming pizza billboard in Mounds View alarmed motorists and became a headache for law enforcement.

The billboard, advertising for the Iowa-based Casey’s convenience store chain, is equipped with a fog machine that gives the pictured pizza the effect of being fresh from the oven.

But several motorists thought what they were seeing was smoke and called 911 to report a fire.

“Everybody that drives by thinks the billboard is on fire,” said Sam Alexander-Sedey of Blaine, who had called the emergency number. He said the operator told him “they had been fielding hundreds of calls all week.”

Alexander-Sedey drives by the billboard on his way to his airport job regularly. He said it’s on U.S. 10 near the Interstate 35W junction in front of Medtronic’s Mounds View office building. He was annoyed to find out he’d been duped.

“I thought it was bad advertising,” he said. “It’s not a very good use of resources.”

The Mounds View police and fire departments felt the same way.

“We have had several calls about it where people think something is on fire,” said Mounds View Police Chief Nate Harder. “I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time, but one we’ve had to react to.”

Harder said the sign has been up for a few weeks and the calls have diminished as the weather has warmed up.

“I think with the weather being a little bit nicer, it doesn’t steam as much, but when it got a little bit colder it did look like there was quite a bit of steam and some smoke,” he said.

The billboard was installed by Clear Channel Outdoor advertising company, which has an office in Minneapolis. A sales associate who answered the phone, but did not wish to be named, confirmed that the company had received calls from authorities asking them to shut off the fog machine.

The company did shut it down for a while, the associate said, but then posted a note on the billboard assuring motorists that the billboard was not on fire and turned it back on.

The client, Casey’s General Store, has had the same issue with the billboard design in other Midwestern states where it is advertising its new and improved online food-ordering website.

The Gazette newspaper in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, wrote a story May 12 quoting the local police department’s Facebook post saying: “The billboard and smoke machine are supposed to depict a steaming hot pizza. There is no fire and do not call 911 to order a pizza!”

Patricia Pearson, owner of Atomic Props and Effects in Oakdale, said they’ve had something similar happen to them with a past prop.

“A lot of these things are just theatrical fog, but people freak out and think the board is on fire,” she said. “Location makes all the difference.”