Backus council learns of local arson, discusses fire department

Cass County Sheriff's Sgt. Jason Brogle told the Backus City Council on Monday, Aug. 4, that a fire recently extinguished on Backus property along State Highway 371 was set intentionally.

Cass County Sheriff's Sgt. Jason Brogle told the Backus City Council on Monday, Aug. 4, that a fire recently extinguished on Backus property along State Highway 371 was set intentionally.

The Backus Fire Department and Cass County Sheriff's Department responded to a business owned by Shane Orth at 9:55 p.m. Sunday, July 27, where a fire was located in the office portion of the building and was quickly extinguished. Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch said by phone Tuesday the property does not appear to be totaled.

Burch said Tuesday that a witness who had permission from the property owner to be on the property reported the fire. The witness also reported seeing someone in the area where the fire started. Evidence found at the scene indicated the fire was arson.

The suspect is still at large. Brogle said the sheriff's office is seeking information from the public. Anyone with information should call 800-450-2677.

"If somebody sees someone in the area acting suspiciously or strangely, something out of the ordinary, that's really what we are kind of looking for. A lot of time these things get solved by a real minute tip. We don't have a good physical description of the suspect," Burch said. "If someone came home with a lot of smoke on them or smelling like gas or burned up a little bit, we'd sure like to know it."


At Monday's council meeting, fire chief Jason Smith announced that Cass County will buy in-vehicle dispatch computers for the fire department and first response. These computers will be compatible with a new interactive cell phone paging system where firefighters will receive pages via text message. Those firefighters with smart phones may also opt to install applications on their phones that will automatically give them a map leading to a fire. The combined application and in-vehicle computer systems will track which firefighters are enroute to the fire to gauge how many are responding.

In other business Monday, the council:

• Agreed to close checking accounts belonging to the Backus Fire Department and First Response with the city receiving the balance. The funds in that account raised through Backus Fire Department fundraisers will then be given back to the fire department to be deposited into a Backus Fire Department Relief Association checking account.

• Agreed to hire one new firefighter and accepted the resignation of another firefighter. The fire department now has 20 volunteers.

• Approved purchases by the Backus Fire Department and Backus First Response, including new gear for new firefighters and to replace worn out gear at approximately $2,000 for each of two or three sets, two radios for the fire department and one for the first response for $7,634.88, and one pressurized hose washing machine for $800.

The council also approved sale of a department-owned trailer for $800 to the current owner of the hose washer. The trailer did not sell when put up for bids.

• Learned that the fire hall needs electrical work. Air compressors used to keep air brakes in emergency vehicles pressurized are popping circuit breakers. Pine River Electric offered to update the electricity at the fire hall as a donation. The council approved the donation.

• Learned the fire department would like to add on to the west side of the fire hall. The addition would include a stall with doors on both ends for pull through access and would be located on city-owned property. If approved, firefighters could do some of the work.


The expansion would cost an estimated $20,000 and would make more space for emergency response equipment such as the Kubota grass fire rig as well as storage for tables, chairs and other equipment used by the department and the city.

• Learned that city street sweeping was more expensive than estimated due to sweeping being delayed for multiple years. The city had approved money to pay for sweeping and crack filling, but the funds for crack filling were used to pay for extra time dedicated to sweeping. Mayor Kurt Sawyer said sweeping and crack filling will be easier in following years if they keep them swept regularly.

• Noted the doors to Backus City Hall were updated to be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.

• Heard from council member Steve Braker on opportunities for expanding city property. Expansion could be done through annexation of a small section of property near the former school property. Braker also said the city owns property adjacent to Highway 371 which is currently vacant except for buried dumping grounds. This property could also be considered for expansion, though Braker said he would like to consult with the city's lawyer first.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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