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Published October 21 2010

Cigarette butts blamed for two house fires in metro

Smoldering cigarette butts were blamed for a West Fargo house fire Wednesday morning and in a south Fargo fire Wednesday afternoon.

The Fargo homeowner, Donna Windom, escaped the fire after a window shattered, waking her from an afternoon nap, Fargo police Officer Chris Bergem said. Windom wasn’t injured.

However, one firefighter was. A piece of sheetrock fell, hitting the firefighter on the back and causing a broken spinal bone.

Officials said the firefighter will not need surgery but it will be weeks before he is recovered.

Firefighters were called at 1:20 p.m. to the deck fire at 1914 53rd Ave. S.

The cause was determined to be smoking materials ignited by combustibles.

Earlier in the day, Fire Marshal Norm Scott said the homeowner “informed me that she was out there and had a cigarette a little bit earlier.

“She said she thought she got it out pretty good, put it in the ceramic flower pot,” he said. “However, with the wind the way it is today – I’m not saying it was the cigarette, but anything’s possible.”

Windom got her pet dog out of the house safely, but two cats were left inside. At least one of them was carried out alive by a firefighter. The second cat had not been located as of press time.

Firefighters attacked the blaze in the roof and both levels of the home, which sustained “extreme” fire damage, Scott said. The flames appeared to have spread up the side of the house and into the soffit and attic, he said.

The fire caused a propane tank on the deck to vent, feeding the flames, he said. Windy conditions also played a role in the blaze.

A Salvation Army official assisting the homeowners, Donna and Douglas Windom, said at the scene that they didn’t want to speak to the media.

West Fargo Fire Chief Roy Schatschneider said a cigarette butt discarded in a plastic flower pot was the cause of a morning fire at the Blaine and Whitney Anderson home at 4409 10th St. W.

One of the residents had been out on the deck about 9 p.m. Monday smoking a cigarette, Schatschneider said. Later, the husband and wife thought they could smell burning wood, but they checked around the inside of the house and found no fire, he said.

Shortly after 4 a.m., their dog alerted them to the deck fire. The fire was burning up the siding when firefighters arrived, and flames were shooting out of the attic vents, Schatschneider said.

Firefighters punched a hole in the kitchen ceiling to put out the attic fire. The living quarters sustained water damage but no fire damage, and the roof will need to be replaced, Schatschneider said, estimating damage at $40,000.

“I think the big thing here is that people just have to be cautious where they discard this stuff,” he said. “A lot of these fires we’ve seen recently are preventable, and that’s what people have to be concerned about.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528