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Police: Smoking materials likely caused house fire

The Grand Forks Fire Department suspects smoking materials were the cause of a fire that blackened the side of a home on North Eighth Street Saturday afternoon, injuring no one.

The Grand Forks Fire Department suspects smoking materials were the cause of a fire that blackened the side of a home on North Eighth Street Saturday afternoon, injuring no one.

The two female occupants, Jessany and Tamara Richter, were not home when neighbors called the fire department just before 2 p.m. The fire started near an entrance on the south side of the house and spread to the siding and rafters, causing about $20,000 worth of damage, according to Grand Forks Fire Department Captain Rick Aamot.

"We can point right to the spot where it probably started," Aamot said.

The roof and siding was black and smoldering after firefighters contained the flames. The rain gutters had to be torn off and firefighters had to make a hole in the roof to keep the fire from spreading.

One firefighter walked from the house cradling a small dog he handed to the residents. Another dog and a cat also were rescued from the home, Aamot said.

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Neighbors lined the sidewalks nervously asking each other where the occupants and their pets were.

"I saw ashes flying by my window, but I thought they just had a fire in their fire pit," said 12-year-old Jacob Bruce, a neighbor immediately to the north of the damaged home, just yards away. "I could smell it, too, but I didn't see anything."

Bruce asked bystanders if they'd seen the two dogs outside, concerned for their safety during the fire.

"I was worried," he said. "We got all our animals out, too, just in case."

Bruce's family left their home until the fire was contained, as did some others concerned about the fire spreading. The Fire Department did not mandate the evacuations.

A fire watch remained in effect at the site until 8:30 p.m., when it was turned back over to the residents. Aamot advised, however, that they stay elsewhere for the night.

The Grand Forks Fire Department, Grand Forks Police Department and Altru Ambulance responded to the scene.

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