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'Person of interest' arrested in Peerless fire

Duluth Police said they have arrested a "person of interest" suspected of arson or burglary in connection with a fire that has gutted the Peerless Collision Center in Lincoln Park.

Fire scene
Using three hoses, Duluth firefighters spray water into the Peerless Auto Body building in Lincoln Park this morning. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Duluth Police said they have arrested a "person of interest" suspected of arson or burglary in connection with a fire that has gutted the Peerless Collision Center in Lincoln Park.

Duluth firefighters continued to battle the blaze Monday.

Crews responded to a call at 2:47 a.m. regarding the two-story building at 2831 W. Superior St. Duluth Assistant Fire Chief Erik Simonson anticipates the 38,000-square-foot structure, valued at about $100,000, is a total loss. No estimate of the value of its contents is yet available.

Rob Rabold, owner of Peerless, estimated that about 30 vehicles were in the building when the fire started. All the paperwork for those vehicles was in the building as well, and Rabold said he'll have to figure out how to notify affected customers.

The exact cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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Although a firehall is located within one block of the fire, the blaze already had a solid foothold when firefighters were called to the scene. Crews arrived to encounter heavy, black smoke pouring from multiple locations. They made three attempts at an interior attack but were driven back each time.

Simonson suspects no one was in the building, but crews have yet to complete a thorough search.

The building is not yet safe for firefighters to enter, according to Assistant Fire Chief Jim Ray. He said it may take two to three days to put out the fire because firefighters attacking the blaze from the exterior are having trouble accessing the building's smoldering interior.

At one point, 28 firefighters were on the scene. Cold weather and frozen hydrants made fighting the fire difficult, Simonson said.

Ray said icy conditions on the scene resulted in a few falls for firefighters but no serious injuries.

Peerless has been in business since 1914, and Rabold, who has owned it for the past decade, said he won't let the shop die.

"Peerless will be back," he pledged. "It won't be too long."

The shop employs six people, including Rabold.

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Peerless moved into the Lincoln Park building about six months ago.

"It's not just a shop; it's an institution," said Joe Miketin, the previous owner of Peerless. "Peerless has been in business for nearly 100 years, and it will survive this fire one way or another. We overcame World War I, World War II and the Great Depression. One way or another we will survive this, too."

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