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Grand Forks pet shelter damaged by fire but animals uninjured

Manvel firefighters carry their ladders back to their trucks at the Circle of Friends Humane Society after a fire in the rafters was brought under control Sunday evening. (Eric Hylden/Herald)

GRAND FORKS - A fire Sunday evening in the rafters and ceiling area of the Circle of Friends Humane Society just north of Grand Forks damaged walls and insulation but not any dogs or cats.

Arlette Moen, executive director, said she got the call from the alarm company about 6 p.m.

She and a dozen or more employees and volunteers of the animal shelter quickly got all 60 or so cats and dogs out of their cages into carriers in case they had to be moved from the shelter at 4375 N. Washington St.

Nearby farmer and Circle of Friends supporter Frank Matejcek showed up with a big livestock trailer to haul the animals to his farm if necessary.

But it wasn't.

Within about a half hour, 14 firefighters from the Manvel (N.D.) Volunteer Fire Department had the fire contained, said Fire Chief Steve Schumer. But cleanup took several hours, and a firefighter or two planned on remaining on site all night to make sure the fire wasn't smoldering in the insulation.

Not much water damage was sustained in the building, but a hole or two had to be cut into the roof and parts of a wall were cut out to make sure the fire was taken care of.

Moen said she planned to spend the night, too, to make sure the animals were OK.

"I'll have plenty of company," she said, gesturing to the back where dogs were yelping.

None were injured by smoke or fire, she said. She will leave them in carriers for the night so they can be moved fast if necessary.

Schumer said it appears the boiler overheated, making a pipe set insulation in the ceiling on fire. It could have been caused by a faulty thermostat or a plugged pipe, but it's not clear yet what the exact cause was, he said.

He had a small pump truck and a tanker in use, with a larger pump truck standing by. Ambulances from Altru Hospital and Manvel also stood by, just in case.

It's the first fire at the shelter, in its new 9,100-square-foot facility built in 2001 on five acres donated by Frank and Lucy Matejcek.

An unusually robust private nonprofit supported by a long list of volunteers as well as by the city, which uses it as its official pound, the shelter is known for never turning away a stray.

Formed in 1975, the shelter previously was in a smaller building west of the city along U.S. Highway 2.

One of the big improvements in the new $1.3 million facility was insulation in the walls, Moen said in 2001.

Sunday, that insulation harbored a fire. Firefighters and volunteers dragged big rubber garbage containers full of burned insulation outside to a large dump bin.

Employees of Lunseth Plumbing and Heating tramped in and out of the building, trying to assess the problem.

At 9 p.m. Sunday, Moen, obviously spent, said, "This hasn't been my ideal day."