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Fire strikes Bergquist Imports site

A fire at the site of Bergquist Imports along the Minnesota Highway 33 frontage road in Cloquet drew a large response Wednesday afternoon as smoke poured from the back of the complex of buildings. Steady smoke curled from the back, carrying across the four lanes of Highway 33 and blowing south.

Firefighters with axes and steel wrecking bars were entering at the back of the complex, disappearing into thick smoke.

"I'm a little shocked," said Barry Bergquist, who owns three buildings on the site, totaling 30,000 square feet and valued at $903,000, according to Carlton County property tax reports.

"Those are metal buildings and don't burn too well," Bergquist added, calling from Florida. Crews from the Cloquet Area Fire District and Carlton and Esko fire departments descended onto the scene after 4:18 p.m. Wednesday, and police closed the 1400 block to traffic.

The buildings at 1412 Highway 33 South are home to Bergquist Imports, the longtime dealer and retailer of Scandinavian merchandise, along with the Erbert & Gerbert's sandwich shop, and Berggren Trayner - a decorating company the family bought in the 1980s - which used to operate out of a large warehouse behind the Bergquist Imports store.

Berggren Trayner has not had any people or activity in the building recently but there was still merchandise inside, Bergquist said.

A CAFD news release said it took crews one minute to arrive on scene. They initially attacked the fire inside the warehouse, where there was heavy smoke and moderate fire conditions. Crews were able to extinguish a large volume of fire but couldn't reach all areas that were actively burning. At that point, command adjusted to an exterior strategy due to the weakened roof structure and heavy snow loads.

As the Pine Knot went to press Wednesday evening, the roof over the warehouse portion of the building had partially collapsed and firefighting was ongoing, with water streaming onto the building from two aerial ladders. Firefighters expected to remain on scene throughout the night.

In February 2021, Barry and Vivian Bergquist sold their 73-year-old retail and wholesale business to Scott Camps but retained ownership of the building. Camps intended to continue with business as usual and has made good on that promise. In addition to the storefront, dealing in Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish gifts, kitchenware and collectibles, the business operates an active wholesale warehouse, "shipping out merchandise and gifts to other gift shops all around the United States and Canada," Bergquist said. Bergquist was most recently at the property prior to Christmas, he said.

Aid was provided by the Carlton, Esko and Duluth Air Guard fire departments, St. Louis County rescue squad, Cloquet police department and the City of Cloquet water and street departments. No injuries had been reported Wednesday evening.