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UPDATED: Apartment fire blamed on light for snake cage

FARGO - An electric light used to heat a snake cage was blamed for a fire that damaged a second-floor Fargo apartment unit today.

The tenant had a corn snake in an aquarium with a screen on top of it in her bedroom, Fargo Fire Capt. Randy Weiss said.

Investigators determined that a light used to heat the cage ignited combustibles, he said.

"They're not sure if the electric light was knocked off by the wind blowing through a window or maybe the cat that was in the house," he said.

The fire was contained to the bedroom, and all tenants safely escaped the fourplex at 120 S. University Dr., he said.

Firefighters were called to the blaze at 1:21 p.m. and arrived to find flames and smoke coming out of the second-story window.

Crews had trouble finding the second-floor access, so they laddered the building and hit it with water from the outside, Weiss said. They knocked most of the fire down before allowing crews to enter and put out the rest of it.

"Actually, this fire was contained to just that one room in the bedroom. The other bedroom was unaffected, and the fire never reached the ceiling and made it into the attic, so the guys did a good job here," Weiss said.

Jess Rehder, whose bedroom bore the brunt of the blaze, said firefighters were already there when she arrived home from shopping downtown. After the fire, they led her into the apartment to retrieve her cat, Lily, which appeared unscathed.

The snake did not survive, Weiss said.

Diane Hay said she and her boyfriend were "sound asleep" in their second-floor unit next door when they awoke to firefighters kicking in the door. She grabbed her cat and fled the building.

Hay said they had just moved in a week ago.

"I don't know what we're going to do," she said before getting back into her apartment. "We don't have a lot of money to rent another place."

There was slight water damage to the apartments, Weiss said. The fourplex was turned over to owner Rick Sorenson to determine if the units were still inhabitable, he said.

A first-floor tenant whose German shepherd took off during the fire was later reunited with the dog, Weiss said.

The building's owner estimated the damage at $60,000, he said.

The Salvation Army assisted displaced tenants.