A call of a structure fire at a vacant building in downtown Rush City on May 11 at 2:53 p.m. is believed to have been arson, according to Rush City Fire Chief Bob Carlson.
“The fire was intentionally set. The building was boarded up and the power was off in the building,” Carlson said. “The call came as a structure fire with black smoke seen and flames coming out of the window.”
Chisago County Sheriff Brandon Thyen also noted suspects had been identified in the incident.
“The fire was deemed an arson and suspects have been identified,” Thyen said. “The investigation is ongoing with partnership with the Rush City Fire Department, Minnesota State Fire Marshal and Chisago County Sheriff’s Office. If anyone has more information regarding this fire, please contact Sgt. Jason Foster at 320-358-4741.”
The structure, located on West Fourth Street in downtown Rush City, was vacant and unoccupied at the time of the fire and appears to be a total loss as a result of the fire, according to City Administrator Amy Mell.
The building, with a rich history in the community, was set to be demolished prior to fire, and the plans still remain, according to Mell.
“The fire really didn’t change the plans; we are still intending on demolishing the building,” Mell said. “The building, now owned by the city, was once owned by the Perreault family, who now owns the next-door building, which is the Perreault Chiropractic building.”
The building was purchased by the Perreault family in 1949 when it was the Aladdin Theatre, according to Mell.
“Dr. Roger Perreault had 15 kids in his family, and they grew up in that building once it was renovated into a home,” Mell said. “The Perreault family ran the theater until the mid-1950s when they closed the doors because they couldn’t get first-run movies because they were such a small theater. In 1962 the building was rehabbed into a home for the family, and they moved into it in 1963, where they lived until the early 2000s.”
“It has been vacant since the Perreaults moved out; it has water damage, mold and asbestos,” Mell added.
The city purchased the building when it was tax forfeited with the intention of demolishing it due to the dilapidated condition.
“The old Snyder Garage, just to the east is also vacant and dilapidated and the city has permission to tear that down, so the city will be tearing both down,” Mell said.
The city received bids last fall for the demolition, but Mell said they need to be updated due to the location of asbestos in the building and its inability to be removed before demolition takes place.
Due to the location and size of the building, mutual aid was requested from surrounding agencies. Members with the Rush City Fire Department responded and were assisted by members with the North Branch Fire Department and Pine City Fire Department.
“We are proud of what we were able to do with the fire; we have a lot of people pretty energetic about what they do on the department,” Carlson said. “Having the right equipment for the job and the correct training is also important. The equipment we have is great and provides us with the ability to successfully fight fires, including our ladder truck. Our mutual aid agreement with surrounding fire departments also makes a difference.”
This incident is currently under investigation by the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office in collaboration with a fire investigator with the Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division.
A request for community assistance for information on the incident and those possibly involved led to identification of three suspects; thanks to calls to the arson tip line.
“If you see something, say something. We’ve received so many great tips already. There’s quite a bit of buzz on the tip line, and as of today there are still leads coming in,” Carlson said. “We have such a (tight-knit) community in the grand scheme of things, that’s what makes the most difference.”