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Tu-Uyen Tran, Forum News Service, Published January 15 2014

Fire marshal: Cigarettes caused downtown fire above Bonzer's in Grand Forks

Cigarettes flicked out of a second-story window accidentally started a fire that damaged a downtown Grand Forks building Saturday night, according to Fire Marshal Brandon Boespflug.

Investigators zeroed in on the cigarettes after experts they consulted ruled out electrical and mechanical causes of the fire, which happened in an out-structure housing the building’s boiler and main electrical components, he said.

They found many cigarettes in the area and on the roof of the structure, he said.

The building, which is at 420 DeMers Avenue, is home to Bonzer’s Sandwich Pub, Dreas Hookah Lounge and Giuseppe’s Italian restaurant on the ground floor and apartments on the second floor.

Dangerous cigs

Cigarettes have caused other fires in Grand Forks, according to Boespflug. A year ago, a man was killed after falling asleep while smoking and starting a fire at a house on University Avenue. Several porch fires have also started when smokers tossed cigarettes in flower pots without putting them out.

“There are huge dangers with cigarettes if 1) they’re not used properly, or 2) disposed properly,” he said.

“We run into that all the time,” he said of smokers flicking their still-lit cigarettes. “We preach and preach the prevention aspect of smoking properly. I guess all we can do is keep preaching.”

In the case of the 420 DeMers fire, investigators figured that someone smoking in the hallway outside the apartments flicked a cigarette out the window and it landed on some combustible material on the roof of the out-structure.

The fire department does not yet have an estimate of the total damage, Boespflug said. There appears to be some light to moderate smoke damage in some businesses requiring clean up, he said.

The fire department said smokers should avoid smoking indoors. They should use sturdy, deep ashtrays placed away from things that can burn. Discarded cigarettes and ashes should be doused with water or covered with sand to ensure they are really out.

Boespflug said flower pots are bad places to put out cigarettes because some kinds of potting soil are actually made of paper particles or other combustible material.