2 Dorset restaurants burn down as severe storms pummel northern Minnesota

Hail at Untiedt's Vegetable Farm
Hail at the Untiedt's Vegetable Farm in Waverly late Wednesday.
Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune via AP

Waves of rough weather and high winds downed power lines and triggered flash floods as storms swept across northern Minnesota Wednesday night into Thursday morning.

Storm-driven lighting strikes also appear to have burned down two restaurants in the north central Minnesota hamlet of Dorset. Farther south, observers reported an 84 miles-per-hour wind gust near Wadena at about 6:15 a.m. A 79 mph blast near Staples brought down power lines and trees.

Storm damages Wright County apple orchard
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Minnesota's Arrowhead region and parts of northwest Wisconsin are expected to get thumped this afternoon.

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Much of northern and central Minnesota felt the storms' wrath Wednesday into Thursday. The city of Brainerd lost power and water service.

"It's a really big mess," said Brainerd Public Utilities agent Matt Cooper. "There are branches all over the roads, stuff blown all over the place."

Cooper said power to the whole city blinked out just before 7 a.m. when 70 mph straight line winds dropped a tree through the main power lines that feed the city. At the same time, the city's main water pump shut down, turning off running water.

"It's one thing to lose power," he said, "but if you lose water too, you're really crippled."

Water has since been restored, but the power is still out across wide swaths of the city. Cooper wasn't sure exactly how many homes and businesses are still without power.

Central Lakes Community College canceled classes and closed its Brainerd and Staples campuses.

The storms blew in from North Dakota last night and were moving towards northwest Wisconsin on Thursday morning, said Brian Tentinger, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Duluth.

"They've been producing large hail and damaging winds, lots of heavy rain as well, some localized flooding possible in some areas," Tentinger said. "There's been a series of storms, one after another, so areas have been getting hit over and over again."

Heavy rain, with nearly two inches fell at the Aitkin, Minnesota, airport just before 7 a.m. One inch hail was reported near Pine City as the storms moved into Wisconsin before 8 a.m.

Lightning strikes appear to have claimed two restaurants important to tiny Dorset, Minnesota.

Just before 5 a.m. Thursday morning, the Park Rapids Fire Department was called to fire at Dorset House Pizza.

"By the time we arrived the Dorset House was fully engulfed," said Park Rapids Assistant Fire Chief Terry Long, "and the flames were working on Companeros (restaurant)."

After four hours of pumping water from Little Sand Lake, firefighters got the blaze under control. Both buildings are a total loss.

Dorset, a town of just 22 people near Park Rapids, is marketed as the restaurant capital of the world. Its main street was dominated by four restaurants, which provide the town's economic drive.

Long said the early morning fire left a smoking gap. "A big chunk of the downtown is gone," he said.

Fire marshals are investigating the blaze, but Long said his department believes the Dorset House was struck by lightning. Several trailer houses in the area also burned, likely due to lightning strikes, Long added. No one was hurt in either fire.