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Fire and ice: Extremely cold weather makes fighting blazes difficult

Langdon firefighters hose down hot spots Friday following Thursday evening's fire downtown at the Langdon General Store.photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 6
The Hallock Electric building smolders days after Wednesday's fire in Hallock. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 6
Ice covers the Langdon General Store Friday after a fire broke out Thursday evening destroying the downtown building. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald3 / 6
Zach Gudgel, left, and Preston Romfo carry out filing cabinets from the Farmers Union Insurance office next to the Langdon General Store after Thursday night's fire. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald4 / 6
Smoke rolls out of the Langdon General Store on Main Street in Langdon Friday after a fire Thurday evening destroyed the building.photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald5 / 6
Hallock, Minn., Fire Chief Kevin Klein, right, and a Minnesota fire marshal survey the Hallock Electric building Friday after Wednesday's fire that destroyed the building. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald6 / 6

LANGDON, N.D.—A Thursday night fire destroyed a 115-year-old building that contained the Langdon General Store, marking the third major blaze in two days that started in the north Red River Valley.

The building's destruction means downtown Langdon has lost not only a historical structure but the opportunity for another business to occupy the space in the near future, General Store owner Alex Chaput said.

"It was just a majestic building," he said. "The history is gone."

About 50 firefighters from Langdon, Munich and the Cavalier Air Force Station responded to the blaze at 8:25 p.m. Thursday, Langdon Fire Chief Lawrence Henry said. No one was in the building at the time of the fire, and no injuries were reported.

It's unclear what caused the fire that displaced two residents. They later received aid from the American Red Cross, according to a news release.

Firefighters spent the night and early hours of Friday morning battling the flames in subzero temperatures, finally putting out the fire around 9 a.m., Henry said. That made it difficult to fight as waterlines froze up at times, he said.

"Things just were not working properly like they would in warmer conditions," he said, adding the building was a total loss.

Built in 1902, the structure hosted various general stores at different periods of time. The Chaput family bought the building and opened their store in early 2015 as a response to retail chain ALCO closing, Chaput said.

"We just felt we needed something to service our community," he said, adding his family wanted to take a proactive step in providing shopping to the Langdon area.

Citing competition from Dollar General, the General Store closed in late December, Chaput said. He was in talks to bring other businesses in to fill the space, but the building has to be razed.

"It's right at the four-way stop on Main Street," he said. "Now you are going to have ... an empty lot at the four-way stop on Main Street."

Increased construction costs and rough times in the retail industry also could dissuade someone from building a new structure to fill with a retailer, Chaput said.

"Who's going to want to build something new on that spot?" he asked, adding one less building means lost opportunity for the local economy.

'Unlucky nature'

The incident came a day after firefighters in Hallock, Minn., and East Grand Forks had to battle two fires of their own. Dust that clogged equipment in the MGI Grain Processing elevator in East Grand Forks likely caused sparks to be blown into the top portion of the tower before tubing caught fire and exploded Wednesday night. The fire was contained to the tower and was put out in 45 minutes, but it likely caused "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in damages, East Grand Forks Fire Chief Gary Larson said.

Hallock Electric, which has been owned by Gary Koop's family for nearly six decades, also caught fire Wednesday night and was destroyed. All that is left is a shell of the building's four walls, Hallock Fire Chief Kevin Klein said.

A fire marshall is investigating the cause of that fire, but it won't be safe to inspect the building until the walls are pulled away, he said.

Certain fires, such as electrical and heat-related fires, may be more common in the winter months, Larson said, especially as people use those sources more.

"People use space heaters," he said. "Our days are shorter, so there are more lights on."

Having this many fires in such a short period of time is probably a coincidence, Henry said. No foul play is suspected in the three incidents.

"I think it is just the unlucky nature of it," Henry said. "Up here, we can go several years without a structure fire."

Extreme cold temperatures can cause problems when fighting fires, as displayed in Langdon. Negative temperatures can freeze water fast, making the scene and equipment slippery, Larson said. Wind also can blow water back at firefighters, freezing gear and clothing.

"That's a big problem with equipment also," he said. "Climbing ladders, even holding an axe when you have to chop a wall when it's coated with ice, the safety level just goes away.

Fires started by cigarettes and candles still are common, Larson said. The fire chiefs suggested checking heating equipment and being cognizant of material building up near heat sources can help prevent fires.

"If you are burning wood, make sure your chimneys are clean," Klein said. "Make sure your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are working."

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

(701) 780-1248
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