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Grand Forks mailman helps residents escape burning condo building

It was the daily mail drop-off time at the Cherry Arms Condos on Tuesday, April 6. The mailman was at the right place at the right time.

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GRAND FORKS — At around noon on Tuesday, April 6, 87-year-old Clayton Lamaack was sitting at his table, trying to figure out what was going on outside.

"I was watching out the back window, (and) stuff falling down, and I couldn't figure out what was going on," said Lamaack.

Seconds later, during his routine delivery time, the mailman made a special stop at Lamaack's door, telling him there was a fire at the complex.

The mailman helped Clayton get outside since he needs a walker to get around.

All 12 units at the Cherry Arms Condo were either destroyed or heavily damaged during the fire that spread fast due to the strong wind.

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Investigators for the Grand Forks Fire Department said the fire was started by careless smoking.

Bunny Knopke also got a knock on her door. She was expecting her daughters, and had just finished making a fancy ham lunch.

"As soon as the door opened, it just gushed the smoke and stuff," Knopke recalled.

As the mailman pounded on the doors throughout the building, residents outside were taking head counts as the flames began to shoot 20 feet through the roof.

"The mailman was awesome; he must have ran like a donkey," said Knopke.

At first there was some concern, because one neighbor was missing. 86-year-old Darlene was quickly embraced with hugs when it was realized she was safe. She had been at a funeral.

It's been an emotional week for Lamaack. All that he could save from his condo was in a bucket. His 81-year-old wife died on Sunday after a yearlong illness. He admits he likely would not have made it out without the help of the mailman.

"Thank God for him being there; I'm so glad," said Clayton.

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Some thankful people now want to send a special delivery to the mailman who saved their lives.

"I wish I knew his name. I would send him a card," said Lamaack.

"If he drank beer, I'd probably buy him a beer," said Knopke with a laugh.

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