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December fire investigated as arson

A sign proclaims that rewards are offered to anyone who has information on the suspected arson at an Ellendale home that burned twice on the morning of Dec. 7. - Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

ELLENDALE — Investigators are asking for the public’s help in a case they suspect is arson.

They have posted signs declaring a house that burned twice on the morning of Dec. 7 as a suspected arson. The house is at 403 Fifth Ave. W. in Ellendale and belongs to Mark and Sara Misgen, owners of Maggio’s Pizza, a business just blocks down the street from the home.

The Steele County Sheriff’s Office, Ellendale Fire Department and the State Fire Marshal’s Office are investigating the case.

State Fire Marshal’s Office spokeswoman Kristine Chapin confirmed that her office posted the signs, after collaborating with the other investigating agencies.

“It doesn’t mean it is an arson,” she said. “It means they are asking for the public’s help.”

The first fire began in the kitchen shortly before 2 a.m., when one of the homeowners came home and saw smoke. Ellendale firefighters extinguished the fire, ventilated the house and deemed it safe before turning it back over to the homeowner.

Shortly before 4 a.m., a passer-by reported a second fire. When Ellendale firefighters arrived, the house was engulfed. It took four hours to put out, and no one was injured.

The signs say a reward of up to $2,500 is offered for “information leading to the identification of persons responsible for the fire.” The Minnesota chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators handles the reward procedures.

Anyone who has information in the suspected arson is asked to call a hot line: 800-723-2020.

Arson cases often are hard to solve and can remain open for a year or more. Conviction rates are low, largely as a result of the evidence being destroyed by fire.

On April 28, 2009, Mark Misgen pleaded guilty receiving stolen property and was convicted of a felony for creating fake credit cards.

While investigators are aware of the conviction, they have not said there’s any connection to the fire.