'Like a death in the family': Fire destroys two Dorset restaurants as thunderstorms rock region
DORSET, Minn. – Two of the four restaurants in this tiny hamlet north of Park Rapids were destroyed and another building damaged by a fire that may have been caused by lightning as severe thunderstorms rolled through the region early Thursday.
The Dorset House restaurant, a popular pizzeria and old-fashioned ice cream fountain, was leveled. Campaneros, a Mexican restaurant, was gutted, with only a storage basement intact, said Rick Kempnich, who owns the restaurants with his wife, Laura.
A third building housing Lundrigans Clothing also was damaged.
The town has billed itself as “The Restaurant Capital of the World” for having so many restaurants – four –in a city with a population of about 22.
But that boast is in serious trouble.
Kempnich, taking a break from removing liquor from the basement of Campaneros, said he and his wife are still in shock.
“I’m 64. We don’t have enough insurance to rebuild. I don’t know what we’ll do. … We haven’t had a chance to think,” he said Thursday afternoon.
The Dorset House building is about 100 years old. The building housing Campaneros was built in the 1920s, he said.
“It’s like a death in the family, is like the way most of us feel,’ Kempnich said. “It’s just devastating right now.”
Kempnich, who lives in Nevis, said a “terrific lighting storm” raged over the area about 3:30 a.m. He said firefighters from the five departments that fought the fire think it was likely sparked by lightning.
“That’s what everything points to right now,” he said. “Fortunately, no one was in the building.”
Kempnich and his father started Campaneros 29 years ago. He purchased Dorset House about 20 years ago, he said.
“It’s pretty emotional. All of us, our whole crew, and the people of the area have been so good to us. We just want to thank everyone … for a lot of great years,” Kempnich said.
About 40 miles south on Highway 10, New York Mills reported baseball-size hail and 3.35 inches of rain, city and National Weather Service officials said.
Police Chief James Gritz said the siding on some homes was ruined, but there were no reports of large trees or branches down.
“The storms came through around 4 o’clock this morning and another round at 5 o’clock. We got hit twice,” Gritz said.
He said there were reports of 4 to 5 inches of rainfall around the city.
“It was raining pretty good. We got some streets that flooded,” Gritz said.
“Too much” rain, said Roger Salo, New York Mills’ public works director, adding that the city was working Thursday to pump out Miller Street, which was “a real bad mess.”
Salo said the hail ranged from golf-ball to baseball sized, leaving dents on some vehicles parked outside. “Jagged-looking stuff,” he said.
When the storms ripped through Wadena, high winds tore down tree branches and uprooted trees, particularly on the south side of the city.
Wadena Police Chief Naomi Plautz said trees fell on a few homes, as did one electrical pole.
There was hail, plenty of rain, a brief power outage, and some streets flooded, Plautz said.
“Nobody was injured,” she said, but the streets were littered with “a lot of branches; a lot of trees down or bent.”
No tornadoes confirmed
Brad Hopkins, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks, said there was no confirmation of tornadoes from the overnight and early morning storms, but radar had indicated “very, very strong rotations. There was a good chance some (tornadoes) could have formed.”
Hopkins said some weather radio circuits at the office were not working properly overnight, so not everyone received warnings of possible tornadoes.
The largest rain and hail amounts were south of Interstate 94 and U.S. Highway 10, Hopkins said.
A flash flood was reported early Thursday on Interstate 94 just south of Casselton as 1 to 3 feet of water covered the road near the railroad bridge, he said.
In North Dakota, Mapleton reported 4.10 inches of rain, Kindred 3.97 inches and Chaffee 2.43 inches, the weather service reported.
In Minnesota, Sebeka had 3.02 inches of rain, Wadena 2.38 inches, Sabin 2.13 inches and Moorhead 1.66 inches, the weather service reported.
Verndale had wind gusts of 79 and 84 mph, and Fergus Falls had a 52 mph gust, the weather service reported.
Between Jamestown and Valley City, Eckelson, N.D. reported 2.5-inch hail. Christine and Enderlin, N.D., and Barnesville, Minn., reported 1.75-inch hail, Hopkins said.
Kindred, N.D., reported 1-inch hail, as did Star Lake and Callaway, Minn.
Lidgerwood, N.D., had .88-inch hail, and Perham, Minn., had penny to nickel-sized hail that covered the ground to a depth of about an inch, the weather service reported.
Wolverton, Minn., reported trees down in town, Hopkins said.
Power coming back
Otter Tail Power Co. had about 1,500 people affected by outages after the storms passed through, spokeswoman Cris Oehler said.
Outages were reported in Frazee, Millerville, Ottertail, Richville, Battle Lake and New York Mills in Minnesota, Oehler said.
By 10:30 a.m., many customers had power back, but small outages remained in New York Mills and in Battle Lake in the Eldorado Beach area and along County Highway 101 and Balmoral Golf Course. There were also small areas still without power around Clitherall and Eagle Bend as crews worked to remove downed tree limbs and reattach power lines, Oehler said.
Lake Region Electric Cooperative reported 1,800 members lost power due to the storms. Those outages were scattered throughout the co-ops coverage area, with the largest covering 50 to 100 homes, said spokesman Dan Husted.
Most of the outages were in northern Otter Tail County, he said, on a line from Barnesville to Pelican Rapids and Perham.
As of 11 a.m. Thursday, the co-op had whittled the list to 414 customers without power, Husted said.
Light damage in F-M
The Fargo-Moorhead area appeared to escape the storm with light damage.
The Moorhead Fire Department said it had only one report of a tree downing a power line.
Mark Nisbet, Xcel Energy’s principal manager for North Dakota, said the metro area didn’t have any major outages, though one transformer went down.
“We had some outages, but it wasn’t anything directly caused by tree damage,” he said.
“I would say that we had minimal storm damage,” Nisbet said. “Overall, pretty good news.”
It was worst in western North Dakota. The first thunderstorms started coming through about 5 p.m., said Ken Simosko, a meteorologist with the weather service office in Bismarck.
Manning and Center reported 2.75-inch hail, Fairfield had 2-inch hail, while Blaisdell, Hanover and Roseglen reported 1.75-inch hail. Grassy Butte and Carrington reported 1.5-inch hail.
Many areas in western and central North Dakota reported 1- to 1.25-inch hail, Simosko said.
A funnel cloud was reported north of Stanley about 7:23 p.m. Friday.
Williston had five minutes of golf-ball size hail start about 8:30 p.m., followed by a report of a funnel cloud about 8:42 p.m., Simosko said.
Power was also knocked out for a time in the eastern section of Williston.
One person was injured when high winds knocked a camper onto its side about 6 miles southwest of Dunn Center, Simosko said.
Golden Valley got a soaking with 2.25 inches of rain, he said.
Carrington saw a 63 mph wind gust, while Kidder County reported 60 mph winds and nickel-sized hail, Simosko said.
At least three thunderstorm cells tracked through the west and central parts of the state.
“They just kind of maintained themselves, even though they were moving so quickly,” Simosko said.
He said the storms were no surprise, as temperatures in the 70s and 80s Wednesday were pushed out by a cold front that dropped temperatures into the 50s and 60s Thursday.
“It’s typical of this time of year,” Simosko said.