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'Just lucky to be alive' tenant says after Fargo apartment fire

Sabrina Boe, left, looks at her burned apartment Monday during her first visit since the fire that destroyed it early that morning. She was at her mother's home at the time of the fire. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Emily Staiger doesn't know why she woke up, but she's glad she did.

The 20-year-old had removed the batteries from the smoke alarm in her south Fargo apartment unit Sunday evening because it kept beeping after hamburger grease briefly flared up in a frying pan.

She awoke about 1 a.m., smelled smoke, opened her bedroom door and found the kitchen ablaze.

"I'm just lucky to be alive," she said.

No one was hurt as Staiger and about 30 others escaped the brick-façade building at 2601 14th St. S., said Fargo Fire Capt. Leroy Skarloken, who saw tenants fleeing out first- and second-floor windows when he arrived.

Adults stood on each ­others' shoulders to pass down children from a second-floor window. Firefighters used ladders to help other tenants escape.

"It could have been a real serious issue there," Skarloken said. "There were quite a few young children and infants in that building. It was pretty intense for a ­little while."

Staiger said she initially ran outside but then tried to return to the second floor when she saw a neighbor pounding on a window. When she opened the hallway door, she said she "couldn't see, like, 2 inches in front of me," so she and others helped the woman down through the window.

"That's all I cared about was making sure that everybody got out safely," she said.

Investigators found the fire started on or near the stove in Staiger's apartment next to the east stairwell, Skarloken said. Crews had the fire under control by 1:15 a.m.

The cause of the fire is under investigation and will be difficult to determine because of the severe damage, he said. The flare-up was a possible cause but hadn't been linked to the blaze, he said.

Staiger said a friend of hers was cooking chicken in the apartment Sunday night and may have forgotten to turn off the stove, but he ­wasn't certain.

The apartment building sustained moderate smoke and fire damage and light water damage, mostly on the east end.

Staiger said she was able to retrieve some pictures, books and her purse and wallet. She was already slated to move into a different apartment on June 1, and she doesn't have renter's insurance.

"So, it's just kind of hard because now I don't have anything for my apartment," said Staiger, who took refuge with her parents in south Fargo.

Her roommate, 20-year-old Sabrina Boe, wasn't home during the fire and had closed her door. Her room sustained water damage and minor smoke damage, its white walls in stark contrast to Staiger's charred room. On Monday, Boe stuffed her clothes into plastic garbage bags and tossed them out the window toward a pickup headed to her aunt's house.

"I was going to be staying here through the summer. So, yeah," she said.

The Minn-Kota Chapter of the American Red Cross assisted four families with food, shelter and clothing. The Salvation Army also assisted tenants and firefighters at the scene.

A damage estimate wasn't available.