FARGO — A major fire displaced 111 residents of a south Fargo senior care facility Thursday afternoon, Jan. 23, and caused significant damage to the building, fire officials said.
While no injuries were reported at Elim Rehab & Care Center, Chaplain David Juve said Thursday night the facility at 3534 University Drive S. was working with North Dakota officials to find places for displaced residents to stay. Residents were in another area of the complex or the nearby Eagles Elementary School waiting to be relocated elsewhere.
The facility initially reported that 115 residents were displaced, but later revised that number to 111. Fire officials at first described the fire as a three-alarm blaze but later struck a fourth alarm when crews on scene needed more resources.
Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead firefighters were on scene, and the fourth alarm called all available off-duty Fargo firefighters as backup for the senior home fire and any other possible emergencies in the city.
Fargo Fire Chief Steve Dirksen said the fire started in an attic and that senior home staff initially tried to put out the flames on their own. Sprinklers and fire doors then activated, and crews were called to the scene at about 3 p.m.
"As crews entered the building, they were met with heavy smoke and zero visibility conditions," the fire department said in a statement.
Flames rose from the roof of the building as a ladder truck dumped a constant stream of water from above. But even when water knocked down flames for a moment, they would stubbornly erupt from the roof a short time later.
When the fire broke out, residents were evacuated from the facility and brought to a chapel that is part of the Elim complex, where Juve said they sang and prayed as they waited.
"In the midst of a crisis, they were doing just great — the staff, too," Juve said.
In addition to a senior living facility, Elim also houses a day care center. According to Juve, as many as 35 to 40 children were safely brought to the school next door.
Later, some senior residents were also taken to the school as the chapel was over-crowded, Juve said. Many were brought by wheelchair and had blankets on their laps.
Dirksen described the fire as very difficult to fight and said about 35 to 40 firefighters were on scene, as well as seven trucks from Fargo, two from Moorhead and one from West Fargo. Two Fargo firefighters who suffered minor injuries while fighting the fire were treated and released, fire officials said.
Twenty-five paramedics and six ambulances responded to the fire and the Salvation Army and American Red Cross were also present.
Smoke from the facility could be seen rising into the sky from WDAY's tower camera on The Forum's building in downtown Fargo, about 3.5 miles away.
By about 5 p.m., crews believed they managed to suppress the flames, Dirksen said. It is not yet clear what caused the fire, but the fire chief called the damage “very significant” and said it caused part of the center’s roof to collapse.
Dirksen said firefighters would likely be on scene "all night" to monitor the situation.
Dirksen said Elim's evacuation plan was executed flawlessly and commended the facility's staff for having a nearby fire hydrant cleared of snow, which allowed fire crews to quickly access water.
Fire officials asked people to avoid the area. As of 4 p.m. Thursday, crews had shut off gas in the building.
Juve said families who want to pick up a resident in the home’s care need to call in advance. Families can check in on residents by calling 701-371-5698 or 218-443-4265.
This story has been updated with a revised number of displaced residents provided by Elim on Thursday night. It has also been updated to reflect that the fire was upgraded to a four-alarm fire after an earlier news conference where officials stated it was a three-alarm fire.