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Unreported kitchen fire claims two in Grand Forks

GRAND FORKS - Toxic fumes caused when a small kitchen fire reignited inside a Grand Forks home apparently led to the deaths of the home's two occupants, the Grand Forks fire marshal said today.

An autopsy will be performed today to determine the cause of death for Bridget Ann Hayes, 50, and Harry Tetrault, 65, who were found dead in the home at 707 S. Ninth St., about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The fire is believed to have occurred on Tuesday, but there was no call to the fire department. A radio left on a hot plate burned when the hot plate either was left on or was bumped, Fire Marshal Bruce Hoeger said. An attempt apparently was made to extinguish the fire, but it reignited later and spread to a counter top.

That fire apparently burned itself out, Hoeger said, but not before toxic fumes permeated the residence.

"Plastic is very toxic stuff when it burns," he said. "It will kill when it burns."

A relative of Hayes found her lying near the door when he came to check on her Wednesday, Hoeger said. Tetrault was found in bed.

Hayes apparently was trying to get out of the house when she was overcome, he said.

The house had a properly mounted smoke detector. The battery was dead when firefighters tested it, but it could have been working at the time of the fire and went dead after sounding an alarm, Hoeger said.

Hoeger said the home also had a fire extinguisher, but it had not been used. The residents apparently tried to extinguish the original fire involving the hot plate and radio with water from the kitchen sink.

Air quality tests conducted in the home after the bodies were found "did not detect anything," Hoeger said, and by then the home did not even need to be aired out. "You could still smell it, though," he said.

He urged residents to never leave the kitchen when pots or pans are heating on a stove, use tight-fitting lids on pots and pans, and have a fire extinguisher on hand.

"And call us," he said.

"This did not have to happen. We'd rather be called and not needed than not called at all. We don't charge a fee or anything.

"This was not a good Christmas."