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Danish Mill saved from destruction...

Arson is the reported cause of an early morning fire Sunday that led to substantial damage to Kenmare’s most recognizable landmark, the Danish Mill in the Downtown Park Square.

1/15/19 (Tue)

Arson is the reported cause of an early morning fire Sunday that led to substantial damage to Kenmare’s most recognizable landmark, the Danish Mill in the Downtown Park Square.

The entire inside of the mill was blackened by smoke and fire with holes burned through the southeast side of the building.

In addition, Christmas lights and power cords inside the mill were melted beyond recognition.

Kenmare Police Sgt. Chris Almlie said the fire marshal Monday suggested that someone deliberately lit the fire.

“She determined that it was not electrical and that it may have been arson,” Almlie said. “At this time, we have samples that have been sent to the state crime lab.”

Fire Marshal Kimberly Ersland didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

Since about noon Sunday, the police department has been looking at surveillance footage of downtown businesses in hopes of identifying someone.

As of Monday, Almlie said camera angles were such that a suspect hadn’t yet been identified. However, there are several more videos to analyze.

Almlie added the police department is asking the public for help in solving this crime. Anyone who may have seen something or someone early Sunday morning is asked to contact Police Chief Allisha Britton or Almlie at 701-385-4411.

Arson in North Dakota is considered a Class B felony that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

“I expect we’ll be putting out a reward in the next few days,” Almlie said. “We want to ID the suspect.”

The fire is believed to have started at 6 a.m., or shortly thereafter. At 6:10, a witness saw a male about 5’7” or 5’8” with a slender build, running out of the building and across the park.

About 6:20, another witness described smoke coming out of the top of the mill and called 911.

The Kenmare Fire Department responded at 6:38 am and was able to quickly contain the blaze.

Fire Chief Mitch Duerre said the department was on scene about an hour to make sure the fire stayed out.

Barb Wiedmer was working out in the west-side gym when she looked out the window and noticed suspicious activity.

“I saw a person running across the park,” she said. “He tripped and continued running. He had dark clothing. He ran over to Beer Bob’s and tried to get in both doors, and then he ran around the corner of the hardware store.”

Wiedmer said initially she didn’t think anything of it as she has seen others run across the downtown park.

But after witness Brittany Bahr reported smoke, suspicion quickly grew to the individual possibly being linked to arson.

“I saw black smoke coming out of the top of the mill and it smelled like something on fire,” Bahr said.

Wiedmer, at least in part, credited Bahr with saving the one building that people everywhere identify with Kenmare.

Danish immigrant Christian Jensen built the mill on his homestead 11 miles north of Kenmare in 1902. It was moved into town in 1958 with a restoration completed in 1961. In 1965, the mill was moved again to its present location in the Downtown Square.

“If not for Brittany and the fire department, we wouldn’t have the mill today,” Wiedmer said. “It’s our icon. Whenever relatives come here, they get their picture taken by the Danish Mill. It’s an awesome thing we have.”

When Kenmare Park Board member Arlen Gartner arrived, he too saw smoke billowing out of the top of the mill. He then went to one side and saw the flames that burned holes in the building.

About that time, the fire department arrived and got the blaze under control.

Later Sunday morning, Gartner said the fire marshal was on site analyzing the damage and taking samples.

Numerous people on the street are outraged that someone might purposely damage the most unique building in Kenmare and that it was nearly lost.

Gartner, who is also a member of the Kenmare Fire Department, said the doors into the mill were closed, limiting the amount of oxygen that got to the fire. He suggested that if one or both of the doors would have been open, there would have been enough oxygen to burn the structure to the ground.

Gartner told The Kenmare News the park board is committed to making sure the mill remains in its place.

“We’re going to fix it when the weather permits,” Gartner said. “I think I can speak for the park board on that.”

Kenmare Public Works Director Rob Shelton was analyzing the damage Monday morning. He said it is going to be a lot of work to clean the inside of the mill and get the smoke smell out.

The first thing will be to determine whether or not the fire compromised the integrity of the building or any part of it. Shelton said some of the wood can be scraped to take away the soot, but other areas may not, such as a large, wood gear that was used to power a shaft to mill the grain.

Repair the mill fund

It’s unclear how much insurance money will be paid out to repair the damage. Locals and those who grew up here are outraged and want to help. If anyone would like to donate to repair the mill, please send contributions to Danish Mill Repair Project, PO Box 816, Kenmare, ND 58746... 

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