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Clay County authorities pore over leads after sixth fire

Matt and Tara Andvik appear before the press Thursday to talk about their home that was allegedly set on fire the night before east of Barnesville. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

BARNESVILLE, Minn. - The sixth suspected case of arson in two weeks at a farmstead near here has left a family homeless and frustrated investigators chasing down leads.

The latest fire at Matt and Tara Andvik's home started before 9 p.m. Wednesday on the rear deck and quickly spread to the rest of the house, leaving it a total loss, said Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist.

Tara Andvik was home when the fire started and was able to get out safely with her dog. Two pet rabbits died in the fire, authorities said.

Her husband said he left with the couple's two children before the fire started. The children have not been staying at home due to the string of fires.

Matt Andvik and the first authorities to respond arrived on the scene of the fire within minutes.

"There was smoke pouring out of the living room," he said. "We tried with the garden hose to try to do something before the fire department showed up. But that didn't really do a whole lot."

Firefighters from Barnesville and Hawley fought the blaze until the early morning hours. The Minnesota Fire Marshal is investigating the fire, as well as five earlier incidents, which include grass fires, a fire on the house's front porch and a fire that destroyed the Andviks' barn.

Authorities believe all of the fires were arson, said Clay County Sheriff's Lt. Steve Landsem. The fire marshal took samples to determine how they were set, he said.

Investigators are looking at all possible leads, including a recent set of restraining orders involving Tara Andvik, Bergquist said.

Court records show Tara Andvik, 33, obtained a restraining order on Aug. 3 against Keith Beam, a 46-year-old man from New Glarus, Wis. She claims in court documents that Beam is the producer of a hunting show on the Outdoor Channel that she used to work for until he pressured her to "move the relationship from professional to intimate."

Andvik said in the court petition that Beam called her home five to 10 times per day and sent more than 100 text and video messages of a sexual nature between November 2010 and July 20. She said in the petition that she was "frightened by (Beam's) violent outbursts and verbal threats that he will 'show up' at her home."

But Beam's attorneys say in court records that Andvik made repeated attempts to contact Beam after she got the restraining order. That contact prompted him to get a restraining order against Andvik on Aug. 19. In his petition, Beam says he and Andvik were in a romantic relationship that ended in July.

Beam has requested the restraining order against him be dismissed, and a hearing is set for Oct. 28.

Calls to two attorneys representing Beam were not returned Thursday. A phone number listed in court records for Beam did not ring when called.

Tara Andvik declined to answer questions about the fire during a news conference Thursday and couldn't be reached later in the day.

Investigators also are looking into threats left on Andvik's Facebook page, Bergquist said.

Matt Andvik said Thursday that his wife, a well-known bow hunter, began getting negative comments on her Facebook page daily about 1½ months ago. His wife had said earlier that one of the threats, from a woman in Australia, had specifically mentioned arson.

"Until we get to the point where we eliminate somebody, it's still under investigation," Landsem said.

Investigators even asked Tara Andvik to take a polygraph test, prompting her to obtain a lawyer, according to a comment she made this week on her Facebook page.

The comment about the polygraph came in the early morning hours Tuesday, 30 minutes after she wrote on Facebook that she wishes the arsonist would finish the job and quit making her life difficult.

The case is frustrating for authorities, Bergquist said, because arson leaves little evidence behind.

"It's very frustrating for the family. They're looking for us to help them, and it's tough," Bergquist said. "Arson is a very, very difficult crime to solve."

Matt Andvik said the family has been getting up every hour to make sure nothing is on fire. They also installed surveillance cameras around the house.

In an incident last week, investigators were in the house talking to the family about the fire to the front porch, which had started hours earlier, when they noticed the barn on fire, Bergquist said.

"You're just kind of constantly living and going 'OK, what's next?' " Matt Andvik said. "Apparently this was next."

The house that's been in the Andvik family for 120 years is still standing but completely destroyed from the inside and out. The family will live with relatives as they decide what to do. Matt Andvik said it's a difficult situation to describe to their kids.

"How do you explain to them that all their toys are up in smoke, and their clothes?" he said. "How do you go about telling them that the house that you grew up in now is gone?"