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In Lakeland, Fire destroys controversial city hall under construction

Lakeland City Council member Jeri Ryan surveyed the charred remains from behind yellow police tape Monday morning and shook her head.

"It's terrifying that this would happen in a small-town, close-knit community like this," Ryan said. "Thirty-eight years I've been down here, and I've never seen anything like this."

Ryan was looking at the new city hall, destroyed late Sunday by fire after being the divisive issue in the city's Nov. 8 elections. Mayor-elect Richard Glasgow, who defeated incumbent Amy Williams, had vowed to stop construction of the new city building.

A neighbor called 911 to report the fire about 11:30 p.m. Sunday, according to Washington County dispatch. Firefighters found the structure, at 1190 St. Croix Trail S., fully engulfed.

"I can't believe it. I can't believe this has happened here," Ryan said.

Sandie Thone, city administrator of the small Washington County town on the St. Croix River, said the fire was contained to the new building site and that no damage was done to the water building, where the city's offices are currently located.

She said the city is gathering facts and assisting law enforcement and investigators from the Lower St. Croix Valley Fire Department and other officials. She also said she had been in contact with the League of Minnesota Cities, the city's insurance carrier. She referred all other questions to the city attorney.

Mayor Amy Williams said the fire appears to have started in a concentrated spot.

Williams conjectured that the fire may have been caused by arson, as it was unoccupied and there no electrical components in the building.

Larry Einertson was driving home to Lake St. Croix Beach from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport about 12:30 a.m. Mondaywhen he saw the smoke and fire trucks.

"There was so much smoke," he said. "I've been here since 1968. Things like this don't happen here, not in our quiet little valley."

It took about 30 minutes for Lower St. Croix Valley Fire Department and crews from Bayport and Hudson, Wis., to extinguish the flames, the Washington County dispatcher said.

The fire was confined to the structure; construction equipment nearby was undamaged, she said.

Lisa Legge and the Associated Press contributed to this report.