Cause of Elim fire determined; displaced residents called 'resilient'

Florence Liekhus
Florence Liekhus, 89, one of 111 residents displaced by a fire at Elim Rehab and Care Center in Fargo, holds a fleece blanket she received from Richland #44 students in her new space at Eventide on Eighth in Moorhead. Chris Flynn / The Forum
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FARGO — While the Fargo Fire Department revealed the cause of a fire that ripped through a senior care center here last month, residents displaced by the flames were being admired for their strength.

The cause of the fire at Elim Rehab & Care Center on Jan. 23 was an overheated electrical component in an attic space above a child care classroom, according to a fire department news release.

The space had been built with combustible materials and did not have sprinklers or noncombustible insulation, the fire department said.

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Other attic areas of the building, which has several kinds of roof construction, were equipped with sprinklers.
No one inside the center at 3534 University Drive S. was hurt, but two firefighters suffered minor injuries battling the blaze.


The fire displaced 111 senior residents and 32 children in a preschool and day care center there.
Firefighters battle a blaze Jan. 23 at Elim Rehab & Care Center, 3534 University Drive S. in Fargo. Forum file photo

Many of the residents — 42 in all — were transferred to Eventide on Eighth in Moorhead.

Genn Bervig, director of admissions and social services at Eventide, said they held a support group meeting for the former Elim residents last week.

“The staff that were there were just really surprised about ... how resilient they were,” Bervig said.

They even endured the sound of a fire alarm recently, as Eventide held one of its regular fire drills.

There’s usually no advance notice of such drills, but an exception was made in this case so as not to cause additional trauma to the new residents.


Meantime, Elim residents have been reclaiming belongings they had to leave behind in the fire.

However, only about 10% of those belongings may be salvageable due to fire, smoke or water damage, said Renee Muhonen, Elim campus administrator.

A recovery team from ServiceMaster packed up and labeled the contents of each room and brought the items to a storage facility offsite.

Families can make appointments to pick up their belongings.

“Some are taking nothing, some are taking everything,” Muhonen said.

John Cunningham
John Cunningham, 62, one of 111 residents displaced by a fire at Elim Rehab and Care Center in Fargo, sits alongside boxes of his belongings that were salvaged from the Jan. 23 fire. Chris Flynn / The Forum

John Cunningham, 62, was able to retrieve his clothing and books, all of which are seemingly undamaged.


His room at Elim, where he’s lived since suffering a stroke 14 years ago, was among those farthest from the fire’s origin.

“I think I'm one of the very, very lucky people to have salvaged all, as much as I did,” he said.

Florence Liekhus, 89, has yet to check out her belongings.

She’s most concerned about wedding and anniversary pictures of her and late husband Donald that were hanging on the wall at Elim; however, she said her children likely have copies.

The former Elim residents were impressed with how staff there and at their new home treated them throughout the process.

Liekhus said she felt “right at home” at Elim, and upon arriving at Eventide, “it was the same feeling.”

Asked whether he would return to Elim, Cunningham didn’t miss a beat.

“In a New York second,” he said, snapping his fingers, adding that staff at Eventide have been “just priceless.”

Residents and staff are also thankful for all of the donations that have been made in the wake of the fire, including books and toys for the children, and TVs, clothing, gift cards, money and blankets for the residents.

Students from Richland #44 school in Colfax, N.D., delivered around 50 handmade fleece blankets to Eventide on Eighth and The Meadows.

Liekhus was thrilled with the cat-themed blanket she received.

“Don't tell me there's no good kids around, because there's a lot of them,” she said.

Blankets for former Elim residents
Samantha Hendrickson, Christy Stenseth, Thomas Zander, McKenzie Johnson and Kaden Schroeder (l to r) of Richland 44 Junior/Senior High School in Colfax, N.D., delivered handmade blankets to Eventide on Eighth Care Center in Moorhead on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. The blankets were given to more than 40 former residents of Elim Care Center in Fargo, who were displaced by a fire Jan. 23 and moved to Eventide. The students are juniors at Richland and Stenseth is the student council advisor. Special to The Forum

Other Elim residents have been relocated to Eventide Fargo, Villa Maria, The Meadows, Bethany and other nursing homes in Fargo, Wahpeton, Mayville, Valley City and Halstad, Minn.

The Elim Children’s Center program has been moved to the Boys and Girls Club of the Red River Valley on University Drive.

The Elim facility is expected to be closed for a year or longer, according to Elim’s parent company, Cassia. About 170 employees were laid off due to the fire, but some have been hired at other care centers in the area.

Bervig said Eventide has hired between 50 and 60 Elim employees between all of its campuses in the F-M area.

Elim Overhead Photo.JPG
A Jan. 23 fire tore through the roof of Elim Rehab & Care Center, 3534 University Drive S. in Fargo. Fargo Fire Department / Special to The Forum

Elim Overhead Photo.JPG
A Jan. 23 fire tore through the roof of Elim Rehab & Care Center, 3534 University Drive S. in Fargo. Fargo Fire Department / Special to The Forum

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