Charly Haley, The Forum, Published April 06 2013
VIDEO: 'This is going to stick with me for a long time,' says man who tried to save victims of Fargo apartment fire
Jangula, who lives directly below the unit, had heard footsteps there earlier in the night and figured there must be people inside.
“When we opened the door, that blast of smoke came right at us,” said Jangula, who’d been awakened by alarms around 5:15 a.m. Saturday. “The smoke was so bad, you couldn’t take two breaths. It was terrible.”
The 56-year-old Jangula and his neighbor had raced through the 20-unit Page Meadows apartment complex knocking on doors to wake people or make sure they were leaving the building.
But when they got to the fire’s second-floor origin, they were helpless despite the unit’s unlocked door.
“We opened up the door and yelled and yelled, and nobody, nobody answered. Nothing.”
Jangula’s neighbor covered his face and tried to enter the unit.
“He said he went in 5 feet, and that’s as far as he could go. I couldn’t even see him. He knew he couldn’t do it,” said Jangula, who said the smoke nearly overtook the two even as they then tried to get out of the building at 925 Page Drive.
Jesse Daniel Madson, 30, was in that second-floor unit and died in the blaze. His girlfriend, 42-year-old Angela Marie Wentz, was taken by air ambulance to Hennepin County Medical Center’s burn unit in Minneapolis. Her condition was not being released Saturday night.
Wentz is a graduate of Moorhead Senior High School. Her Facebook page reveals she is an avid animal lover. Madson liked horror movies, according to his
Firefighters used ladders to rescue several residents who were huddling on balconies when crews arrived around 5:30 a.m.
One family reportedly safely jumped from a balcony to the ground before firefighters arrived, said Assistant Fire Chief LeRoy Skarloken. No other residents were injured.
It’s not clear at this time what started the fire, say Fargo fire officials. They said it started in the unit’s living room.
Sixteen residents were displaced by the blaze, which was mostly contained to the one second-floor unit, though smoke and water damaged other parts of the complex.
The American Red Cross set up a temporary shelter at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School. The residents were later given hotel rooms until Tuesday, when they are expected to be able to return to the complex, managed by Coldwell Banker.
Jean Murphy, 59, lives in the unit across the hall from the one that caught fire. Her daughter, who lives next door, woke her.
“When I came out of my door, the hallway was just black because of all the soot and smoke,” Murphy said. She and her daughter left the building before firefighters arrived.
Murphy said she didn’t really know the couple who lived in the apartment; they’d just say a passing hello sometimes.
“It’s unfortunate,” she said, adding, “I feel very lucky.”
The fire was put out within 10 to 15 minutes, said Skarloken, who added that the building’s construction helped contain the fire to just one unit because of steel siding and double Sheetrock in the walls and ceiling.
Moorhead fire crews helped fight the blaze, and Fargo police officers and the Salvation Army were on scene.
On Saturday afternoon, the building was turned over to its owners for cleanup and assessment.
Julie Poston, Coldwell Banker’s property supervisor for the apartment building, declined to comment when reached on the phone Saturday.
Jangula said he wished he could have done more to help.
“I just feel for the family,” Jangula repeated several times. “This is going to stick with me for a long time.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Charly Haley at (701) 235-7311.