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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published October 14 2010

APARTMENT FIRE: Firefighters seeking help from public as probe continues in Galleria blaze

Fire investigators are sending soil and deck board samples to the state crime lab as they work to determine a cause of Monday’s massive fire at the Galleria On 42nd complex in south Fargo.

“We’re pretty sure we know the point of origin, but we don’t know what caused it yet,” said Inspector John Arens.

Investigators believe the fire started on the deck of a first-floor apartment on the west side of the complex, Arens said.

Firefighters don’t suspect foul play, but the testing will help rule out that any type of ignitable liquid was used, Arens said.

Firefighters are seeking help from the public. They’re asking anyone who witnessed unusual activities in that area or saw anyone smoking in that area before the fire to call the Fargo Fire Department at (701) 241-8135.

The department also is seeking early photos of the fire, Arens said.

Although investigators haven’t ruled out anything, an electrical fire or a fire caused by someone who was smoking are two possibilities, Arens said.

Early speculation was that a grill may have caused the fire, but Arens doesn’t think that’s the cause.

“I have no evidence that there was any grill sitting there at all,” Arens said.

Investigators are looking at electrical causes as possibilities because there’s an outlet on the balcony where the fire originated, Arens said.

Dana Philipenko, the on-site property manager, said she believes the cause may be electrical.

Philipenko said she had concerns about issues with electrical outlets on more than one occasion and had reported them to the property management company, Investors Management & Marketing of Minot, N.D.

A few hours before the fire, the resident of a third-floor apartment located in the central part of the building reported to Philipenko a concern about an electrical outlet.

Doug Pfau, property supervisor for IMM, whom Philipenko reports to, said he couldn’t comment on whether he had received information about electrical issues.

“The investigation is ongoing, and it’s not complete,” Pfau said.

Dan Hollwegner, vice president of operations for IMM, said he was not aware of any electrical issues that were reported in the building.

IMM has managed the building for about six months after buying Alerus Property Management, the previous manager, Hollwegner said.

The building is owned by a group of Twin Cities investors, he said.

An insurance adjustor was on site Wednesday to begin working on a recommendation on whether any portions of the building can be saved, Hollwegner said.

He expects the process to take some time, and residents will not be allowed in the building while the insurance company is still investigating.

The Fire Department turned over the building to IMM on Tuesday night.

The area is being monitored by a private security firm and a fence will be used to secure the area, Hollwegner said.

The firm is arranging to return security deposits and October rent to residents today.

The Red Cross has worked with 120 Galleria residents, providing them help with food, clothing and medical items such as prescriptions, contact lenses and glasses. Residents of all but eight of the 62 units have contacted the Red Cross for assistance.

The United Way of Cass-Clay’s fund for the fire victims raised more than $3,000 in the first 24 hours.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590



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