Chateau up in flames

Two concrete elevator shafts, standing scarred and charred, were all that remained of two apartment buildings being constructed to expand Chateau Apartment Homes after fire completely engulfed and destroyed them early Thursday morning.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

There were no injuries reported at the fire scene, and the buildings, both still under construction, were uninhabited.

Firefighters were dispatched at 6:39 a.m.

“The east building was still up, the one closest to the Lamplighter (Lounge), the building to the west of it was starting to fall in and part of it had fallen in,” fire chief C.J. Craven said in an interview of what the scene was like when he arrived at 7 a.m. “The west side of the east building was already heavily burning before I arrived.

“The biggest contributing factor is wind. It’s not necessarily the cold, the cold makes it difficult for us,” he added, “but wind is the biggest factor. The wind was coming out of the west and was pushing the fire over toward 16th Street.”

All three Minot Fire Department stations responded to the fire and all 48 firefighters, on duty or not, were called to assist. Craven was unsure by early afternoon how many were actually able to respond since some were on vacation and out of state.

“The assumption is, from the appearance of the fire, it probably started in the west building,” Craven said.

The west building, slated to open next summer, was not as far along in the

construction process as the east building, slated to open in February.

“The one on the west I don’t believe it had sheet rock or windows by how fast it burned,” Craven added.

Firefighters were able to douse the Lamplighter Lounge, which is to the east of the Chateau, to save the business and limit damage there.

Just on the inside of the entrance to Arrowhead Shopping Center that faces Second Avenue, Marketplace Foods installed a refreshments station for firefighters and other emergency responders to drink coffee or hot cocoa, have donuts, and warm up from the minus 7 degree weather with additional strong winds. Many people walking through the center stopped to thank the firefighters for their work.

“At least you guys were able to save the Lamplighter,” a man said to some firefighters having some coffee. “I thought for sure the Lamplighter was a goner.”

“That was our main goal,” said one of the firefighters.

Responders had set up a ladder truck in the area of the Lamplighter to protect it from the fire in the 15-unit eastern building under construction and set up another one next to the western apartment building under construction, which had 57-units. The attempt was to keep the fire from spreading to the original Chateau Apartments farther west of that. The original complex did not suffer any damage, according to Investors Real Estate Trust, the owners of the apartments.

“IRET is grateful for the quick response and action of the Minot Fire Department to extinguish the fire, and to protect the surrounding neighborhood, in bitterly cold conditions,” Lindsey Knoop Anderson, director of investor relations for the company, wrote in a prepared statement.

“They’re working a lot harder out there than we are in here,” said a Marketplace Foods store manager who eagerly refilled the hot cocoa as more firefighters streamed in from the frost.

Likewise, the American Red Cross was called by Minot Central Dispatch by 7:43 a.m., and, according to Allan McGeough, the community chapter executive of the Minot office, it took them just about an hour to assemble their volunteers and supplies and arrive on scene in their truck.

“All we’ve really been doing is helping out the Minot fire department,” McGeough said in an interview. “What happened is that they would get in (the truck) and then get warm a little bit … and then we brought them sandwiches and breakfast as well.”

There was plenty of coffee, but really it seemed to be the warmth that helped the most, if conversations and comments overheard are any indication.

The organization was also there to be able to provide services and even shelter to displaced residents in the area who were evacuated from their homes and apartments as the fire raged. Luckily, sheltering evacuees was not needed.

“Looking at it from the outside it looks fine,” McGeough said of the original Chateau Apartment Homes building at about 2 p.m. “But I would guess there’s a little bit of smoke damage.”

Craven said that investigation had barely begun by early afternoon since there was still fire in the area, and didn’t have immediate answers to smoke or structural damage questions for the other buildings in the area, but said that they looked okay.

Although rumors were circulating in the city that the Xcel Energy building to the south of the location had been damaged, Craven said that is false and that that building as well as some other commercial buildings in the area were “significantly far away” from the fire, although they did station fire units in risk areas to watch for spreading.