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Suspicious Burnsville fires follow Internet threats from animal rights activists

BARNESVILLE, Minn. - A series of four fires in five days - including a pair of Wednesday morning blazes that destroyed a deck and a barn - has put a rural Clay County family on guard.

Authorities say the fires Wednesday at a farmstead Matt and Tara Andvik live at near Barnesville appear to have been intentionally set, and the apparent arson comes shortly after Tara Andvik, a well-known bow hunter, began to receive threatening messages from animal rights activists.

One of the threats, most of which were delivered on Facebook, originated from an Australian woman who said Tara Andvik's house should be lit on fire with her family inside it, Tara Andvik said Wednesday.

Andvik said the "personal and graphic" comments began streaming in within the past few weeks, roughly 200 messages about which she and Matt had notified authorities before the fires.

She said she's hoping the suspected arson Wednesday morning isn't linked to the threats. Her husband said it's hard to believe the online comments could be connected, but they can't rule out the possibility.

"There would have to be some disconnect in that person's brain to do that," he said Wednesday. "It seems really extreme."

The fire on the deck was reported to 911 about 2:40 a.m., according to dispatch logs. Investigators were still on the scene at about 6 a.m. when the barn ignited, said Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist.

Matt Andvik said the barn and the deck are about 60 yards apart, and Bergquist said fire officials are confident both the fires were intentionally started. Tara Andvik thinks a pair of grass fires on the property late Friday and again early Saturday was likely started on purpose, too.

The sheriff said there are things found on the scene that suggest arson beyond the timing and the distance, but he didn't disclose any further details.

Authorities are looking to see if there was a link between the four fires, the fires and the threats and the Barnesville fire and another suspected arson in Wahpeton set Wednesday morning, Bergquist said.

Matt Andvik said there was little of value lost in either fire, but the barn on the family farmstead had been built by his grandfather six decades ago.

"It's more the memories than anything else," he said.

Tara Andvik said while the response from the firefighters and law enforcement was "phenomenal," the fires were unnerving.

"We don't feel safe," she said.