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Apartment building fire cause a mystery

FARGO - The cause of Saturday's fire that heavily damaged a Fargo apartment complex will be listed as undetermined, a local fire official said Monday, but the loss, estimated at close to $1 million, will likely prompt a private investigation, an insurance official said.

Such a move is not uncommon, said Debby Facey, claims manager for Dawson Insurance in Fargo.

"Especially with a large claim like this, they (insurance companies) would want their own cause and origin expert," said Facey, whose agency is the insurance agent for Goldmark Property Management, which manages the 20-unit Granger Court apartment building at 915 43rd St. S.

Undetermined cause

The fire started in a third-floor bedroom and apparently broke out a window, allowing the flames to reach the soffit and spread into the attic, said Fargo Fire Marshal Norm Scott.

But investigators could not identify what started the fire, so the cause will go down as undetermined, he said.

Goldmark spokesman Ken Regan said things like candles and cigarettes used by tenants are the typical sources of fires reported in buildings the company manages.

Investigators informed Goldmark that an air freshener found plugged in an electrical outlet is something insurance investigators should look at regarding Saturday's fire, Regan said.

Goldmark has offered to find tenants spots in other buildings it manages and, though it is not required to, the company is providing refunds on June rent, Regan said.

He did not have an estimate on how many tenants have found new places to live.

The Fire Department estimated damage to the building at $750,000 and said about $150,000 worth of contents was destroyed.

New digs

The fire left Bruce Barganier without a home, but he discovered something of a silver lining on Monday.

Goldmark found him an apartment bigger than his old one and closer to his place of employment.

"It's two blocks from where I work," Barganier said of his new home in north Fargo.

About 3 p.m. Monday, third-floor residents learned they'd have to wait until today before they might have access to their apartments.

In the meantime, Goldmark employees armed with digital cameras were taking photos and seeking valuables described by tenants.

Fargo Air Guard member Mike DeKrey and his wife, Noelle, got some good news. Firefighters had tossed a tarpaulin over a favorite print.

"All right," said Mike DeKrey as he was handed his framed print depicting a North Dakota Air National Guard F-16 responding to the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

Joe Westbrock and his fiancee, Erica Schafer, were also given one of their framed pictures.

"We feel helpless. There's nothing we can do," Westbrock said. "Our whole life for the past three years has been in this building."

Cheap coverage

The fact no cause could be found for the fire shouldn't hold up insurance claims, said Julie Wilson, an agent with Farmers Insurance Group in Fargo.

But local insurers say many people go without renters insurance, despite the fact that it's relatively cheap - $75 to $125 a year for typical policies.

Evert Van Engelenhoven, president of Hektner-Lybeck-Erickson Insurance in Fargo, said packaging a rental policy with an auto policy can trigger discounts.

"It's almost a no-brainer," Engelenhoven said.

Chris Allen of Farmers Insurance Group in West Fargo said renters can increase protection of expensive assets with "riders."

Neither the DeKreys nor Westbrock and his fiancee had insurance.

"We never thought we'd need it," Noelle DeKrey said.

"We figured flood protection would be the only thing" to worry about in Fargo, Westbrock said.

"Just get it," Allen said. "It may not be you that burns the place down. It might be your neighbor. You might be the most careful person in the world, but if the place burns, your stuff is gone."