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Grand Forks firefighters check hotspots at the Budget Inn Express on Saturday night after a fire heavily damaged the north end motel. (Eric Hylden/Herald)

Fire destroys part of Budget Inn Express motel in Grand Forks

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GRAND FORKS - A four-unit segment of the Budget Inn Express motel on Gateway Drive, part of the former Westward Ho complex, was destroyed by fire Saturday night.

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More than a dozen Grand Forks firefighters battled the flames for more than two hours after the fire was reported about 8:30 p.m.

No injuries were reported, fire officials and waiting ambulance attendants said. Fire Chief Peter O'Neill said three or four residents of the burning units had been relocated to another wing of the motel.

Capt. Mike Sandry said the fire apparently started in the attic portion of one of the motel units.

"This whole wing is involved now," he said.

O'Neill said firefighters were trying to remove part of the building on the east side, a single-story building, to prevent the fire from spreading to an attached two-story segment of the complex.

"To lose a wing of a motel is a substantial loss," O'Neill said.

He said motel employees or contractors apparently had been working in the wing earlier Saturday, but it was too early to determine whether that work had anything to do with the fire.

Joseph Heine, 21, had been staying at the motel for a couple of months while working for a towing company. He was out on a towing job when he was alerted by radio that there was a fire at his motel.

"They're pouring water into my room right now," he said as he watched fire crews trying to contain the blaze.

"All my clothes, all my work equipment, my computer -- it's all in there" in Room 103, he said.

The fire, just off Gateway Drive, became something of an outdoor theater experience as a succession of cars, some loaded with families, pulled into nearby parking lots to watch.

"This is part of history in Grand Forks," said Mike Chenarides, who came with his wife and children.

A 2002 fire, blamed on a meth operation, destroyed 16 rooms of the Budget Inn Express, causing about $200,000 in damage. Fifty firefighters spent three hours fighting that blaze, the biggest in the city in several years, and about 30 people had to be evacuated.

Seventeen rooms were destroyed in a 1970 fire at the motel.

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