Grand Forks fire forces 16 from apartmentsFacing subzero temperatures and bitter wind chills, firefighters battled a blaze Friday that destroyed the roof of a 12-plex apartment building on Grand Forks’ south side and displaced at least 16 residents from their homes, authorities said.
Facing subzero temperatures and bitter wind chills, firefighters battled a blaze Friday that destroyed the roof of a 12-plex apartment building on Grand Forks’ south side and displaced at least 16 residents from their homes, authorities said.
Fire crews were initially dispatched to the three-story building about 8 p.m. Thursday to put out a blaze started by cooking food that was left unattended in a third-floor unit, Battalion Chief Rob Corbett said.
Firefighters doused that blaze, which caused substantial damage to the unit’s kitchen and smoke damage to the entire third floor. Crews left the scene that night but were called back shortly before 8 a.m., arriving to find the roof in flames.
“The full roof was involved this morning. It was being fanned by the winds,” Capt. Randy Fetsch said.
The building at 2530 17th Ave. S. was safely evacuated, and no residents or pets were injured, fire officials reported.
At first, firefighters went in the building to attack the flames from the inside. However, with the roof engulfed, Fetsch said, he worried about the safety of his firefighters. So minutes after they went inside, Fetsch had them come outside where they hosed the building from the ground and from ladder trucks.
Corbett said it’s possible Thursday night’s fire somehow rekindled and caused Friday morning’s blaze. “Wind can get in and fuel the fire from hidden places that we just couldn’t find when we were out here,” he said.
The battalion chief recalled other times when fires have restarted a while after the fire was thought to have been extinguished. “It’s always kind of a disappointment for us when that happens,” he said. “We do our best to make sure it doesn’t.”
Fetsch said the fires are being investigated.
‘A complete loss’
About 9 a.m. Friday, as firefighters were putting out the blaze, the National Weather Service reported the air temperature was minus 13 degrees and the wind chill was minus 38 degrees at the Grand Forks airport.
“When it’s this cold, we obviously have concerns for our people. We have problems with frozen hose lines,” Corbett said. “It’s just not very conducive to firefighting.”
Of the two dozen firefighters who were dispatched to the blaze throughout the day, Fetsch said, a couple suffered minor frostbite.
Working in shifts, crews remained at the scene into the evening, trying to fully extinguish the smoldering structure. About 5 p.m. Friday, a few firefighters were checking for hot spots, Fetsch said.
Along with the destruction of the roof, the building sustained water damage. “I believe it’s going to be a complete loss,” Fetsch said.
The building, which is part of the Roughrider apartment complex, was constructed in 1975. Last year, its value was assessed at $435,500, according to Grand Forks County records.
Not far from the apartment building, American Red Cross volunteers offered assistance to fire victims Friday afternoon at the Sharon Lutheran Church.
Tom Tezel, the emergency services director of the local Red Cross chapter, said most of the building’s residents were planning to stay with friends or relatives. He said a few would be put up at motels or the Red Cross shelter in East Grand Forks.
Tezel said the company that manages the building has at least 15 vacant units they plan to make available to the victims potentially as permanent homes.
“I’m thinking most of these people will be starting over,” he said.
Katy and Rory Loomis were among those who met with the Red Cross. The couple, who got married in May, lived in a second-floor unit.
Rory Loomis, 26, said he and his wife evacuated the building Thursday night but were eventually allowed back into their apartment about 10:30 p.m. They spent the night there, and in the morning, they evacuated again, he said.
With the fire department on scene, they sat in their car watching the building burn.
“Basically, the whole top of the building was on fire. The roof kind of started caving in and everything,” he said.
Friday afternoon, they wondered about their belongings — her wedding dress, his guns, her grandma’s china.
“They’re saying if it didn’t get burnt, it was probably water-damaged,” he said.
Riley Paulson, who lives with his mom, Cindy, was also concerned about the contents of his apartment. “It’s kind of hard to replace the pictures, but probably everything else we can replace,” the 14-year-old said.
Paulson and his mom, who live on the first floor, went to spend the night with his aunt after the first fire – an incident that left him a bit unsettled. “I was a little afraid, but once I got comfortable, I was fine,” he said.
He said they took only the clothes they were wearing and his mom’s medicine. “I didn’t have time to grab my school stuff, so I’m wondering if that got wrecked,” he said.
He figures he has an excuse regarding his homework: “My house burnt.”
“They’ll probably believe it,” he said.
‘A big problem’
Dingyi Ye’s apartment was across the hall from the third-floor unit where Thursday night’s fire started. A neighbor knocked on his door to warn him, he said.
Worried someone was inside the burning apartment, a person forced the door, releasing a plume of smoke that made it difficult to see, he said. The apartment turned out to be empty.
A strong smell of smoke in Ye’s apartment led him to stay in a hotel that night.
Hearing about the damage Friday’s blaze caused, Ye, a microbiologist whose family lives in Canada, had one concern: his computer files that held years of his research data.
The 61-year-old sucked his teeth and let out a sigh. “That’s a big problem,” he said.
He had backed up his files, but the drives containing the duplicated files were also in the apartment, he said. His fear was a computer virus, not a fire.
Ye said his current data is at his office, but his older data was at home. “Some of these data are still not published, but they are still valuable,” he said. “It’s too bad.”
Fetsch, the fire captain, said he did not know when residents would be able to return to their apartments to salvage items. He said the fire department will have to determine if the structure is safe to enter.
“We can’t let people go into an unsafe situation,” he said.
Reach Ingersoll at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to email@example.com.
How to help
Make a donation to the American Red Cross by calling (218) 773-9565 or visiting www.minnkotaredcross.org