Arson attack on vet hospital reveals growing concern; suspect arrested (update)

Five dogs and a cat were rescued from an arson fire early Sunday morning at the North Branch Veterinary Hospital, 38875 12th Ave. Photos by Jon Tatting

UPDATE (Nov. 12): A 21-year-old North Branch man has been arrested in connection with the Nov. 4 arson fire at North Branch Veterinary Hospital. 

The suspect was arrested and booked for second degree arson, a felony, thanks to an investigation by the North Branch Police Department and tips from the community. He is in custody at the Chisago County Jail, where he awaits arraignment, according to a press release provided by Sgt. Rick Sapp of the police department. 

The Post Review does not print names of the accused until they are officially charged. Felony arson in the second degree typically carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, a $20,000 fine or both.

NOV. 7: Five dogs and a cat were rescued from an arson-confirmed fire early Sunday morning at the North Branch Veterinary Hospital.

City police and fire authorities responded to the structure fire around 3:29 a.m. at 38875 12th Ave. The blaze was extinguished with help from the Harris, Rush City and Stacy fire departments.

Confirmed an arson by the State Fire Marshal, the blaze appeared to be purposefully started by an accelerant from outside the business. A reward of up to $2,500 is being offered for information leading to an arrest, which may help solve a string of similar fires and arson attempts that have been perpetrated in the city’s central business district since spring.

“We’ve been dealing with five to 10 various fires with similar circumstances since May,” said Sgt. Rick Sapp of the North Branch Police Department. “It’s escalated from dumpster fires to structure fires in the last week.”

Despite roof and utility damage to the southeast part of the building, the hospital was open Monday morning with staff working on a minimal basis.

Also early Sunday morning, pails containing what appeared dried leaves surrounded a burn mark on the west-facing side of Budget Host motel, just feet away and directly across from the veterinary hospital. A dumpster fire was discovered a block away in a neighboring business parking lot.

Another arson attempt at a business occurred Nov. 1.

“So far, none of these fires have been residential, but we are very much concerned about the potential for injury or death the way this is escalating,” Sapp explained. “I haven’t seen this in my 14 years of law enforcement.”

The Nov. 4 fire caused much roof and electrical damage, as seen here from a utility room inside the hospital.

Dr. Al Kemplin, owner of the veterinary hospital since 1999, said he was initially “stunned with disbelief” when authorities alerted him of the fire by phone call at 4:30 a.m. His pet dog, Tria, was one of the canines rescued by responding authorities who either heard the dogs barking or thought to check inside due to the nature of the business, he said.

By the time Kemplin arrived, the fire was out but not before it caused extensive roof and utility damage on the southeast corner of the building. Though the rest of the facility appears intact, he and staff are still picking up the pieces and wondering: “Why would someone do this?”

Despite the arson attack the veterinary hospital remains open this week, with staff taking phone calls and walk-in inquiries from pet owners looking for prescription refills, special foods or some helpful advice. And they are grateful for the kind words and backing from the public.

“We hope to start seeing animals again within a week,” noted Kemplin, who is one of three doctors on staff. “We appreciate all the positive and emotional support from the community.”

While there are no suspects at this time, anyone with information leading to an arrest is encouraged to call North Branch Police at 651-674-8848 or the Arson Hotline at 1-800-723-2020.

“Feel free to call us if you hear or see anything suspicious,” urged Sgt. Sapp. “We would rather go on hunches than after the fact. We’re doing the best we can with our limited resources.”

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