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Fire that did $5 million in damage being investigated

ARLINGTON, S.D. – Federal officials are now investigating a massive fire at a secretive mink processing plant in the small eastern South Dakota town of Arlington.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives National Response Team, with 24 specialists from around the nation as well as regional ATF fire investigators and agents, was called in Saturday to help investigate the possible cause of the early Thursday morning fire that destroyed the 65,000-square-foot facility called Top Lot Processors in the city's industrial park.

Damage is estimated at $5 million. No one was injured.

Arlington is about 20 miles west of Brookings.

Arlington Chamber of Commerce president Mike Jorenby didn't believe the facility actually made mink fur coats or other products, but was thought to process the furs and ship them off.

He said the tight-lipped company moved into the building about three or four months ago and had installed some new equipment.

Jorenby said he didn't know how many people worked there or the exact nature of their work because company officials were worried about animal activists and didn't like to share information about their operations.

ATF Public Information Officer Martin Siebenaler said the team was called in by local and state officials because of the scope of the fire involving such a large structure and with the financial loss.

The national team is only called in for large-scale or complex incidents.

Siebenaler said Tuesday that they couldn't say whether there was any criminal wrongdoing in the fire as he said it "could take weeks" before any possible cause could be determined.

"Maybe we won't even be able to determine a cause," he said.

Siebenaler also said the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, state fire marshal's office and Kingsbury County sheriff's officials are assisting.

"ATF and our state and local partners will work together to determine the origin and cause of this fire," said Special Agent in Charge James Modzelewski of the St. Paul ATF field office.

The national team, however, will certainly be a help as it is composed of veteran special agents, including certified explosives specialists, certified fire investigators, forensic mapping specialists, accelerant and explosives detection canine teams, explosives enforcement officers, fire protection engineers, electrical engineers and forensic chemists.