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Suspicious fires in Twin Cities hit 2 playgrounds, auto repair shop

This news story was published on February 23, 2012.
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Paul Walsh, Star Tribune, Minneapolis –

Several vehicles were set ablaze early Wednesday at a repair shop in Brooklyn Park, and authorities are also looking into two suspicious fires at playgrounds over the weekend in north Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park.

Authorities believe the playground fires are related, but they think that Wednesday’s blaze was set by others.

About 10 vehicles at a transmission repair shop in the 6400 block of Lakeland Avenue were burning when firefighters arrived shortly before 4 a.m., said Deputy Fire Chief Todd Seitz. He described four of the vehicles as fully consumed by the flames.

The shop has video surveillance, but it does not record, Seitz said.

The first of the two playground equipment fires occurred Saturday in north Minneapolis and has been ruled arson. The fire was set on the playground of the former Jordan Park Elementary School at Humboldt and 30th Avenues N., Assistant Fire Chief Cherie Penn said.

Jordan Park School closed in 2007. It is currently occupied by the district-operated Hmong International Academy. The building will be home to Pierre Bottineau French Immersion, a new public elementary school opening in the fall.

On Sunday in Brooklyn Park, a fire deemed suspicious destroyed playground equipment at Park Brook Elementary School at 7400 Hampshire Av.

“We detected accelerants that were used,” said Seitz, who added he’s confident that the fire was set because “playground equipment just doesn’t start on fire.”

A juvenile suspected in the fire was arrested Monday, then released pending further investigation. Seitz said detectives are working to locate the juvenile.

Police Inspector Todd Milburn said Wednesday afternoon that adults are under suspicion for setting the vehicles ablaze. No arrests in that case have been made.

No buildings or people were harmed in any of the three fires.

Upon arrival at the Minneapolis blaze, firefighters found heavy smoke and fire consuming the plastic equipment, Penn said. Shredded tire mulch on the ground around the equipment “contributed to the large volume of smoke,” she said.

By the time the flames were extinguished, two-thirds of the equipment had melted, Penn said.

The Fire Department’s arson unit has determined that “the fire was intentionally set,” the assistant chief said.

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