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Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications, Published July 02 2012

Grand Forks courthouse evacuated after air-conditioning leak

GRAND FORKS - The Grand Forks County Courthouse was evacuated about 2:35 p.m. Monday as loud fire alarms sounded, reportedly because of a leak in overworked air-conditioning equipment on the roof.

Soon, the lawn in front of the courthouse was filled with prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges, as well as other county employees and members of the public. Several said they had left laptop computers inside they hoped to retrieve.

Four Grand Forks fire trucks parked on Fourth Street between the courthouse and the new county office building, where most evacuees went to escape the high temperatures and high humidity outside — and several firefighters walked into the courthouse to figure out what happened.

North Dakota District Judge Joel Medd and others said they saw light smoke or fumes on the third floor and detected an odor like diesel fuel. Others said it smelled like Freon, the liquid used in air conditioners.

By about 2:55 p.m., Sheriff Bob Rost said firefighters — half of whom had to dash off to answer another call — told him the alarm was caused from a Freon leak in air conditioning units on the roof of the courthouse that may have caused a short in an electrical motor.

County officials told employees they would be able to go back into the building to retrieve anything they needed, then close off the building for the day so repairs could be completed.

Rost said it would not be known until Tuesday if the courthouse would be open in the morning. Employees will be notified and the public is asked to call the Sheriff’s Department at (701) 780-8082 to learn if it is open.