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Park Theatre evacuated as marquee catches fire

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A fire at Park Theatre caused extensive damage to the iconic downtown Park Rapids marquee Monday evening.

An estimated 15 to 20 people were in the theater when the fire was reported just before 7 p.m. Staff and customers all safely evacuated the building and there were no injuries reported.

The Park Rapids Fire Department responded to the scene and extinguished the fire, which was contained to the marquee. Fire did not reach inside the theater lobby or adjoining buildings.

The cause of the fire is unknown, but indications are likely an electrical issue with the marquee. The state Fire Marshal was in Park Rapids on Tuesday inspecting the damage.

Scott Wilson, who owns the theater with wife Pam Wilson, said he was inside when he smelled smoke. He went upstairs and looked out a window behind the marquee.

"I saw the flames coming out of the top when I went upstairs to look," Scott said.

He dialed 9-1-1 and directed staff to evacuate the theater.

"As soon as I saw it, I said, 'Let's get everybody out of here right away.' I tried to put water on it from the inside, but I didn't have enough," he said. "Hopefully, it stopped it a little bit from going further. I'm glad it didn't go to any other areas or other buildings. It stayed right in the marquee. I just have a little smoke damage in the lobby, but that's about it inside."

None of the adjoining businesses were damaged. Scott Wilson said they'll contact the insurance adjuster to look at the fire damage to the marquee and "go from there" as far as repairing or replacing the structure.

Mike and Jacci Hadfield of Park Rapids had just settled in with their popcorn to watch "War of the Planet of the Apes." The advertisements were on and they hadn't gotten to the coming attractions yet when staff came in and told them the marquee was on fire and everybody had to leave. Jacci grabbed her popcorn and Mike left his behind. They watched from across the street.

Bruce and Deb Eidsmore were in an adjoining theater waiting to watch "Dunkirk" when they were evacuated, along with about a dozen other people.

"The employees did a great job getting us out of there — polite and forceful. They did great. Everybody got out quickly and orderly," Bruce Eidsmore said outside, while firefighters worked on the marquee. Bruce is a former safety director in Fargo and they have a cabin on the Straight River.

"We came in to enjoy the town and see a movie."

The fire drew dozens of onlookers to Main Avenue. As firefighters worked to make sure the fire didn't spread from the marquee, people were already talking about a community effort to raise money for the theater.

Park Theater is in the Baehr Building. Scott estimates the marquee was installed around 1946. Pam Wilson's family has owned the theater since 1984. Scott got involved 15 years ago when he and Pam got married.

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