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Mayville house fire keeps 3 departments battling snow, cold and blaze

Firefighters from three departments battled all Sunday to keep a house fire in the heart of Mayville, N.D., from spreading beyond what was one of the oldest and biggest homes in the city of 2,000.

Snow and frigid temperatures were the main enemies and there was little for firefighters to do but monitor the burning down of the unoccupied house, said Aaron Lande, president of the volunteer Mayville Fire Department.

The call came in about 8:20 a.m. Sunday, Lande said. Twelve hours later, the walls were pretty much down, said Fire Chief Lee Brenna. "There's part of the north wall still standing," he said. "We have people scheduled to be here all through the night."

The house, only a half-block south of Old Main in the center of Mayville State University's campus, is next to the former college president's residence that hasn't been used for the purpose for two decades, Brenna said.

The owner of the burning house had been working on the interior, but no one had lived in it for several years.

The 2.5-story house is a century or more old, with a footprint of 60 feet by 30 feet and more than 4,000 square feet, Brenna said.

The home was known as the Elken house, named for the family who lived there long and last, until a few years ago, Brenna said.

No one was injured and no other structures were damaged by the fire, he said.

It seems clear the fire began in the basement, but nobody has been able to get close enough to do much investigation yet, said Brenna, one of the first on scene Sunday morning. A state fire marshal will be on scene Monday, he said.

Lande said the call came in before church began at several nearby congregations.

"Heavy smoke was coming out the top of the attic," Lande said of the scene when they arrived in the unoccupied house. "We tried to make entry, but there was fire in the basement."

About 35 firefighters from three departments, including Hillsboro and next-door Portland, as well as Mayville's department, responded.

The house had no working furnace but did have electricity hooked up, Lande said.

By 2 p.m., the other structure still was intact but the interior continued to harbor flames and smoke, Lande said. By 8:30 p.m., the walls were mostly down.

Firefighting was hampered by deep snow, frigid conditions of near-zero temperatures that slowed down truck action and firefighters, he said.