A 21-year-old North Branch man has been charged in connection with the Nov. 4 arson fire at the North Branch Veterinary Hospital and a dumpster fire near the downtown Pizza Pub restaurant Nov. 2.
Ryan Keith Ortlepp was charged by complaint Tuesday with arson in the second degree, a felony, and fifth degree arson, a misdemeanor, in Chisago County District Court. He was arrested and brought to the county jail Monday thanks to an investigation by the North Branch Police Department and tips from the community, according to Sgt. Rick Sapp of the North Branch Police Department.
Felony arson in the second degree typically carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison, a $20,000 fine or both. The misdemeanor count, 90 days in jail, $1,000 fine or both.
As for the veterinarian hospital, 38875 12th Ave., it has temporarily relocated to a space behind AmericInn, next to Perkins, in North Branch where staff was back to serving clients Monday, Nov. 12. The hospital will not be able to offer boarding or grooming until its building is rebuilt in about four months, Dr. Al Kemplin and family noted in a letter to the Post Review this week.
City police and multiple fire departments responded to the veterinary hospital fire around 3:29 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 4. Five dogs and a cat were rescued, and there were no injuries.
Confirming it an act of arson, the State Fire Marshal initially assessed the blaze started when someone used a lighter to ignite items contained within the recycling cans outside the building’s southeast area, according to the court complaint. The damage to the building was estimated to be at least $20,000.
A reward of up to $2,500 was initially offered for information leading to an arrest, while a string of similar fires and arson attempts — including a dumpster fire around the same time as and near the vet hospital and the Nov. 2 dumpster fire at the Pizza Pub — have been perpetrated in the city’s central business district since spring.
None of the fires had been residential, “but we are very much concerned about the potential for injury or death the way this is escalating,” Sgt. Sapp explained last week. “I haven’t seen this in my 14 years of law enforcement.”
Dr. Al Kemplin, owner of the veterinary hospital since 1999, said he was initially “stunned with disbelief” when authorities alerted him of the early morning fire by phone call. His dog, Tria, was one of the animals rescued by responding authorities who either heard the dogs barking or thought to check inside due to the nature of the business.
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. Still, the business remained open in the days following, with staff taking phone calls and walk-in inquiries from pet owners looking for prescription refills, special foods or some helpful advice.