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Lightning suspected in St. Cloud school fire

  • Associated Press
  • June 15, 2014 - 4:10 PM

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Crews tore down what was left of a St. Cloud school that sustained heavy damage Sunday in a fire that officials say may have been started by lighting in the aftermath of storms that drenched Minnesota from the far south to the far north.

The storms dumped as much as 4 inches of rain at Luverne and Red Wing and packed wind gusts as high as 68 mph at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as they moved through in waves Saturday and early Sunday. About 106,000 Xcel Energy customers lost power for a while, and about 8,000 were still without power early Sunday afternoon.

St. Cloud Fire Chief Bill Mund said tearing down the Roosevelt Early Childhood Center was the only way to get at all of the fire after it worked its way into difficult-to-reach areas. Otherwise, he said, it would have just kept smoldering.

Among the witnesses as the 95-year-old building came down was Denise Huebsch who taught kindergarten at Roosevelt in 1990 and 1991.

"I'm just so overwhelmed right now," Huebsch said.

Mund said neighbors reported a "loud bang" that might have been a lightning strike, but he said it was still too early to confirm that as the cause. Nobody was injured in the fire, which was reported just after 11:30 p.m. Saturday.

Elsewhere in central Minnesota, Stearns County authorities said lightning was suspected as the cause of a house fire in St. Joseph and a barn fire near Eden Valley. Nobody was injured in either fire Saturday night, and no animals were kept in the barn.

On Minnesota's northern border, sandbagging was underway to protect homes in the International Falls area Sunday because of rising waters on Lake Kabetogema and Rainy Lake after the area got about 3 inches of rain. The Rainy River was flowing at record high rates, the National Weather Service said.

The Koochiching County sheriff's office said volunteers had filled about 50,000 sandbags. Docks and boathouses sustained damage, but there were no confirmed reports of damage to any homes, the department said. Minnesota Highway 11 was closed due to water over the road near Loman, about 16 miles west of International Falls.

Voyageurs National Park closed over 30 campsites because all the park's docks and some of its boat launches are under water.

In Minnesota's southwest corner, the water was receding after officials closed all four lanes of Interstate 90 from Luverne to the South Dakota border for several hours. Water up to 4 feet deep covered the freeway early Sunday morning.

A flash flood washed out a dam spillway at Blue Mounds State Park north of Luverne, draining a swimming pond, said Tom Sawtelle, the park's assistant manager. Sawtelle said the flood caused a dock to float off and get stuck against the dam, blocking the normal flow, and the spillway couldn't handle the extra water. The park remained open.

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