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Arson suspected in fire

PIPESTONE -- By the time firefighters arrived Monday morning at Viland Implement, it was already too late to save the only John Deere dealership in Pipestone County. Fire had engulfed the main farm machinery building, rendering it a total loss.

The investigation, however, continues. Arson is suspected, with possible ties to a recent implement dealership fire in Slayton and others that have been reported in Iowa.

"We did determine that it is an incendiary fire. It would be similar to the fire that occurred at Slayton International in Slayton about four weeks ago," said Pipestone County Sheriff Dan Delaney. "Evidence indicates that it was an attempted burglary followed up by arson."

There were no suspects as of Monday afternoon. Delaney said the nature of the fires are similar to at least three other incidents that have occurred in Iowa "in the last four months."

According to one bystander at the scene Monday morning, a motorist called the Sheriff's Office at about 6 a.m. to report the blaze. The Pipestone Fire Department responded to the call, as well as the Pipestone Ambulance. Fire departments from Holland, Woodstock, Jasper and Edgerton also arrived at the scene.

"It was fully engulfed when we got here," said Pipestone Fire Chief Mark Otter. "When we got here, we had flames coming in from the northeast part of the building."

Otter said firefighters, wary of dangerous chemicals stored in the large wood and metal building, didn't attempt to enter any part of the facility. Several explosions were reported as firemen worked to control the conflagration.

By mid-morning, the dealership was reduced to twisted sheets of tin and charred wood. By 11 a.m., firemen continued to shoot water into the collapsed building from trucks, and individual firefighters carefully worked around the edges to cool the smoldering remains. Owner Daryl Viland, his wife Marlys, and Viland Implement employees watched from a storage shed.

"They called me about a quarter after six," said Daryl Viland, adding that three area fire departments were battling the blaze when he arrived.

"Apparently there's a ring going around," he said. "Very similar thing in Slayton a month ago. There's been some things in northwest Iowa. ... I think they found a shop torch in front of the safe. This is an implement dealership. There's no money around here."

"It's not something you want to wake up to the phone to hear," Marlys said.

Viland has owned the implement dealership for 15 years. The business has been remarkably free of criminal activity in the past. There was a minor break-in during Labor Day 2004, Viland said, but all that was taken was a pair of gloves.

There is no money in the safe, he said.

"Nobody pays in cash any more, anyway. It's checks. And they're not left where they can find them anywhere, either," he declared.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Steve Kellen eyed the remains Monday morning, saying, "All we're waiting for now is for (the firemen) to get the heat and the smoke out of this. Then we can start digging around."

An investigation of the April 7 Slayton International fire is ongoing. On May 5, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) added $5,000 to the reward fund, bringing the total reward offered for information leading to arrest and conviction to $7,500. The fire destroyed the office area of the Slayton International building and caused extensive damage to the rear shop area. New tractors and tractors to be repaired, plus the computer and phone system were damaged. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the ATF will assist with the investigation at Viland Implement.

Investigators believe the fire was started following an attempt to break into the office safe.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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