Arson fire damages St. Paul campus labs

Joanna Dornfeld

A weekend blaze in the Crops Research Building on the St. Paul campus was caused by arson, University police confirmed Monday.

The fire broke out at approximately 3:40 a.m. Saturday. It began in a construction trailer adjacent to the northwest corner of the building, located at 1902 Dudley Ave.

“We have an active arson investigation Ö because (the fire) had two points of origin,” said University police Capt. Steve Johnson.

Monetary damage to the building has not yet been estimated.

Interior doors were damaged to gain entry to the building, according to the police report.

The smoke, water and fire damaged four or five labs, Johnson said. The trailer and some heavy equipment were also damaged.

“There was probably some research that was destroyed, but we won’t know until we start looking at samples,” said John Byrnes, College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences communications director.

Most damage occurred in the Soil Testing and Forage Research labs. Local farmers and gardeners send soil and forage samples to the University to have their chemical composition tested.

The Soil Testing Lab handles approximately 40,000 soil samples per year, said Philip Larsen, agricultural, food and environmental sciences college senior associate dean.

“A huge service to the people of Minnesota Ö has been impeded as a result of the fire,” he said.

The Corn Breeding Lab was also damaged in the blaze.

“There are probably 12 to 15 grad students that have research projects that are dependent on that research facility,” Larsen said.

It will be months before the labs will again be useable, Larsen said.

There is no indication how much research was lost, Byrnes said.

“I think we’ll have a better handle on that later in the week,” he said.

Insurance agents surveyed the buildings’ damage Monday to make cost assessments. Other officials assessed structural damage.

University police are investigating the crime. No suspects had been named Monday evening.