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Renaissance Festival Fire Ruled Arson

Susan Hogan/Albach / Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St.Paul)
Published Saturday, February 27, 1999

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photo by: Bruce Bisping

An early-morning fire that destroyed 32 food and craft booths on the Renaissance Festival grounds Friday in rural Shakopee has been ruled arson, authorities said. The blaze was confined to the southwest corner of the festival site, an area intended for children. Ten percent of 320 vendor booths burned to the ground.

"It was a big fire and taking out a lot of structures," said Dave Einertson, chief deputy sheriff for Scott County. "But fortunately, these fires were confined to a small area."

No damage estimate in dollars was available.

Mid-America Festivals, which runs the outdoor event that attracts more than 300,000 people annually to the 22-acre spread, said the area would be rebuilt in time for its Aug. 14 opening. "Obviously, the cleanup is going to be humongous," said Summer Ohlsen, spokeswoman for Mid-America. "But it's really not as bad as it could have been."

The fire was reported by Carver County deputies at 3:03 a.m. Friday. At first, they thought the blaze was in the city of Carver but soon realized it was on the festival grounds, near the intersection of Hwy. 169 and Hwy. 41 in rural Scott County.

Seven fire departments responded: Shakopee, Jordan, Savage, Chaska, Carver, Chanhassen and Prior Lake. With more than 100 firefighters helping, the blaze was extinguished by 5:30 a.m.

Thomas Neudahl, deputy state fire marshal investigator, said four or five fires had been set, but he declined to comment on the method used. He said he wasn't aware of a motive for the crime and anticipated a long investigation. "Several of these booths were privately owned," he said. "It's going to take some time to contact each of the owners to find out if any of them were having problems."

The fire is being investigated by the fire marshal's office and Scott County authorities.

Ten of the food and beverage booths destroyed were owned by Mid-America. Two food booths and 20 craft booths were privately owned. Some of those were uninsured, authorities said.

Tino and Michelle Lettieri, who sold pizza-on-a-stick and other Italian-style foods for 10 years at the site, said that they'll probably rebuild. The couple had built a new booth last year. "That someone would destroy other people's property on purpose -- it's pretty sad that this is what the world has come to," Michelle Lettieri said.

The festival grounds' two entry points have locked gates, but each can be climbed over or under easily. Einertson said there was no indication that a vehicle was used to gain access.

Joann Chase, a caretaker who has lived on the grounds for 15 years, said she was awakened during the night by fire trucks rushing past her modified trailer home. "The crews were here quickly, but this is the kind of place that if it burns, it's going to go fast," Chase said. "Most of the structures are old wood structures."

-- The International Association of Arson Investigators is offering up to a $1,000 reward for information about the crime. Call 1-800-723-2020.

Copyright 1999 Star Tribune.  Republished here with the permission of the Star Tribune. No Further republication or redistribution is permitted without the written permission of the Star Tribune.

Last updated on 03/24/99

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