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Official says Grand Forks house on fire near UND had working smoke detectors

The house on fire Sunday near UND’s campus had working smoke detectors, the Grand Forks Fire Department said today.

“They were going off when our guys were going in,” said Fire Marshal Brian Geatz, who investigated the fire and ruled it accidental, caused by cooking food left unattended that ignited. “We normally make it a procedure during the investigation to ask that question and check them as we are going through.”

Matt Heisler, 21, was home alone and was unconscious when rescued by his roommate, Ryan Nelson, 21, who came home about 2:40 a.m. Sunday to find the house on fire.

The smoke detectors were where they were supposed to be and ringing the alarm in the house at 2029 First Ave. N., just east of campus.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to alert him to get him out of there,” Geatz said.

Heisler remains in Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis where he was in critical condition Monday “fighting for his life,” according to his family.

Nelson’s emergency work got Heisler’s heart re-started at the scene and later Heisler’s heart stopped again at Altru Hospital, according to Heisler’s family writing on his Caringbridge page online.

Geatz said food cooking on top of the electric stove ignited after being left unattended and set fire to the wall and cabinet nearby.

“The main tip we are trying to get across is just never to walk away from cooking,” Geatz said. “It happens a lot. Unfortunately, that’s one of our biggest causes of fires. You put stuff there and forget it, even leave it for five minutes.... It gets hot quick.”

That’s a good reason, too, to keep stoves clean.

It appears that food, oil and grease spilled and spattered on the stove helped fuel the fire, so it ignited faster, Geatz said. “So keep combustibles way from the top of the stove, even stuff like food.”

The kitchen was pretty much destroyed by the fire and smoke damaged much of the house, so it will require a lot of work to make the house livable again, he said.

Geatz said he’s waiting to interview Nelson, who has been in Minneapolis visiting his roommate.

Nelson was treated for smoke inhalation at Altru Hospital and released Sunday. Heisler was airlifted to Minneapolis.