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Townhouse fire caused by 'improperly discarded smoking materials'

Fire investigators have ruled the fire that raged through a row of townhouses in Elk Point on April 27 as accidental.
Sherida Germain captured some dramatic photos of a large structure fire that destroyed a row of townhouses in Elk Point on April 27.

Fire investigators have ruled the fire that raged through a row of townhouses in Elk Point on April 27 as accidental.

Robert Duffy, Town of Elk Point safety codes officer, said Friday the fire investigation is complete, and investigators have pinpointed “improperly discarded smoking materials” as being the cause. Duffy said, based on eyewitness accounts and video footage, the fire appeared to start in “what looks like a planter” on the deck of one of the townhouses, which then caught the building itself on fire. It spread quickly through the row of houses fanned by strong winds.

“Everybody did get out. The fire spread quickly. A lot has to do with the materials used and the wind helped push the fire,” he explained.

Elk Point’s Deputy Fire Chief Peter Hewitt said the wind was definitely a factor in fighting the blaze. He expressed his appreciation to the community members who went door to door to make sure everyone got out alive and did what they could to keep the fire from spreading further.

“Some were out with rakes and shovels containing the grass fires the blaze was starting, some were in the heat of things working beside the firefighters, and some helped in ways we may never know about,” Hewitt stated. “The assistance of these community members was extremely valuable in helping prevent a situation that could have been far more disastrous.”

When the flames were extinguished, eight homes had been destroyed along with a semi-tractor truck, motorcycle, jeep and pickup truck. Additionally, the heat from the blaze damaged siding on the apartment building to the south of the location. While nobody suffered injuries, one cat was lost in the fire. The total financial loss at this time has been pegged at $3.5 million, although Duffy said that may increase.

He noted that some of the people forced to flee their homes, did not have content insurance.

Elk Point was quick to respond to the crisis, according to Janice Fodchuk, FCSS director for the County of St. Paul and Town of Elk Point.

“The people that reached out to FCSS have all found accommodation,” Fodchuk said of the immediate response from the community to come to the aid of those in need. “Elk Point community never ever ceases to surprise me, beyond any community I’ve ever worked in.”

The Elk Point Baptist Church monitored and housed donations of items and the Elks and Lioness clubs provided cash donations to purchase food and clothing. At this point, Fodchuk said the need for physical items has been met but anyone wishing to donate funds can still do so at the Cornerstone Co-op in Elk Point. A GoFundMe page has also been established online with $3,280 raised on a $20,000 goal as of Monday.

Jay Heagy owned one of the townhouses involved. He arrived on scene as the fire was still burning. He purchased the property as a second home and his two daughters and grandson were living there. While they weren’t home at the time, unfortunately, it was their cat that was killed in the fire.

“It’s a total loss,” he said of the fire, adding he’s just beginning the insurance process.

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