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A firefighter from the Bemidji Fire Department, perched on a ladder truck, fights a wall of flames Monday afternoon at Regency Park Apartments. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Bemidji's Regency Park Apartments heavily damaged in fire

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Firefighters from Bemidji, Bagley, Blackduck, Cass Lake, Solway and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Forestry worked to extinguish a raging fire at the Regency Park Apartments south unit Monday afternoon.

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Bemidji Fire Chief Dave Hoefer said he believes everyone was evacuated from the three-story 63-unit complex.

"It took probably 20 minutes to clear the first and second floors with the master key," said Beltrami County Deputy Lee Anderson. "Then the east and west wings. I couldn't get upstairs (to central third floor). The heat was too intense."

However, Anderson said, he did not encounter anyone on the third floor of the east and west wings.

He said he could see that the sprinkler and alarm systems had operated properly, and residents were helping each other out buddy-style. The complex was built in the late 1990s.

The fire is believed to be one of the worst in Bemidji since a fire destroyed Central Elementary School in 1958.

Anderson said the apartment fire appeared to have started on the balcony of a central third-floor apartment, but that was speculation until the investigation was complete.

"This is a prime example of the dynamics of how hot it can get," Anderson said.

He said within 20 minutes the fire had broken through the roof and the lower floors were collapsing.

Firefighters said they expected to be on duty at the scene all night Monday.

No civilian injuries were reported, but a Bemidji firefighter was treated and released at North Country Regional Hospital.

Bemidji Police Officer Tom Charboneau said an apartment manager called in the fire at 3:01 p.m. Monday.

The evacuees from the apartment complex were given shelter in Bemidji School District buses at the Emergency Operations Center set up in the Herberger's parking lot at the Paul Bunyan Mall, according to Beryl Wernberg, Beltrami County Emergency Management director.

Those displaced by the fire were asked to register at the buses or to call Beltrami County Dispatch at 333-9111 with information on how to reach them and where they are staying.

A shelter was made available at Mount Zion Church in the old Lincoln Elementary School at 414 Lincoln Ave. S.E..

Quality Inn offered fire victims one night's lodging free of charge, and Best Western Inn offered the displaced people reduced hotel rates.

The Bemidji Soup Kitchen was open for supper at Mount Zion Church.

Meeting set

The Bemidji Fire Department, Bemidji Police Department and the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office of Emergency Management will host an informational town hall meeting for the victims of the fire at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Mount Zion Church, 414 Lincoln Ave. S.E.

Information and resources will be available. Wernberg encouraged victims to attend so they can receive assistance.

Donations

Wernberg asked that interested residents hold off on donating clothing and food until the number of affected residents is known. She expected further information to become available Tuesday.

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Pioneer reporters Bethany Wesley and Laurie Swenson contributed to this story.

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