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David Samson / The Forum

Investigators pinpoint cause of fire that destroyed popular barn dance venue

ARTHUR, N.D. – Investigators spent Halloween morning in the ashes of Arthur’s Barn, and they concluded that the longtime country music venue burned to the ground last week because of an electrical malfunction.

“There is nothing determining that it was anything but accidental,” said Steve Gabrielson, an investigator with the Cass County Sheriff’s Department.

Gabrielson said investigators determined that the Thursday, Oct. 26, fire started on the ground level of the west side of the barn near the electrical junction box. Gabrielson said looking at the wiring it’s believed heavy winds caused wires to touch and surge.

The junction box was heavily damaged, and he said the “overloaded” electrical unit appears to be where the fire originated.

A nearby town reported winds of up to 46 mph that day, Gabrielson said, so gusts were somewhere in that range.

The county investigator said nothing was turned on at the time of the fire, such as lights or musical equipment, which he said there wasn’t a lot of in the barn because most bands brought their own to shows. But there was a great deal of memorabilia lost in the fire, he added.

“There were Polaroids all over the place,” Gabrielson said. “There was a lot of history, a lot of memory.”

Arthur’s Barn, formerly Johnson’s Barn, had hosted dances and concerts since the 1950s. There was a change in ownership in 2015 when Brian and Becky Johnson sold the barn to Delon and Julie Cahoon of Casselton. The Cahoon’s had events planned through the end of the year.

Asked if arson was at one time considered as a possible cause, Gabrielson said “that’s always going to be there when it’s a newer owner,” and when the building suddenly goes up in flames now after all these years. But due to the way everything looked on Tuesday and what firefighters saw Thursday, Gabrielson said investigators “didn't believe this could have been intentional.”

“It just happens,” he said. “Not everything lasts forever.”

Other personal items and some vehicles were also lost in the fire, he said. A tractor on the east side of the barn and a semi on the south side – both uninsured –  were saved by fire crews but damaged in the fire, he said.

Gabrielson said the Cahoons mentioned to him that they “may very well rebuild.”

A GoFundMe campaign established online the day of the fire has since raised nearly $4,000 to go toward keeping the community tradition alive. Arthur’s Barn is also selling T-shirts to celebrate the legacy of the venue and “future barn dances to come.”

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