Occupants escape early morning house fire in Grand Forks

Grand Forks Fire/Rescue was called to the scene at 3:38 a.m. on Jan. 15

Grand Forks firefighters leaped into action at 3:38 a.m. on Jan. 15, when a call came in for a house fire at 27th Street and Central Avenue, near the Ramada Inn in Grand Forks.

A paramedic on scene reported that seven occupants had gotten themselves out of the building before fire crews arrived. The occupants were then taken to hospital to be checked out.

Grand Forks Fire/Rescue chief George Seigler said that his crew arrived to find “heavy smoke” and some visible flame coming from the building. The fire, Seigler said, appeared to have started in the house’s basement, making the approach more difficult for firefighters.

In the basement, Seigler said, there is only one way in and one way out, which made for a tight and risky situation for firefighters.

In all, Grand Forks had 16 local members attend the fire, while one engine from Christina Lake came in support with five additional firefighters.

By 9 a.m. Wednesday, the fire appeared to have been doused but crews remained on-scene and were inspecting the building. Seigler said that the cause of the fire had not yet been determined at that point, though he said the building in its current condition was “not habitable.”

The fire chief said that Wednesday’s fire was the department’s most significant call since an Aug. 7 fire incident at a structure on Brown Creek Road, up the North Fork.

Rick Soobotin and his family were living in the upstairs area of the house before the fire started. Soobotin said that beyond his children, the only things he could save were two guitars and a computer with photos of his children on it.

The fire came not even two years after they were flooded out of the Ruckle home in May 2018.

“We are Soobotins,” he said. “Stronger than the elements, weathered and beaten but never broken, we shall prevail.”

A GoFundMe page was set up shortly after the fire by River Valley Community Church pastor Gabe Warriner. As of Jan. 20, the drive had raised $1,000 of its $5,000 goal.

“We want to help Rick and his family recover,” Warriner wrote in the description. “They’ve lost so much. Let’s pull together as a community of family, friends, and neighbours and help get this family back on their feet again.”

“Thank you so much for what you do,” Soobotin offered to first responders, “and thank you to all in the community – so many friends and family and complete strangers offering help – it is very much appreciated.”

In the basement of the house that burned last week, Aman Saggu and Manbir Singh were woken up by an upstairs neighbour who noticed the smoke. Saggu said that they called 9-1-1 when they realized that they could not contain the fire.

“I just ran away,” Saggu said. “I was very cold in -15 C, just wearing shorts.” Saggu said he left his phone and glasses inside and tried to go back in and get them, but the house was too full of smoke. Then, Soobotin gave him a jacket to wear and Saggu says he sat in Soobotin’s truck to stay warm.

Since, Saggu said he was able to retrieve his passport – still usable, but things that weren’t burned were wrecked with water. Asked what else he and Singh need right now, Saggu said that it’s just about finding another place to live. “I can’t live in a motel forever,” he said.

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Firefighters remove a computer tower and two guitars from the scene of a fire in Grand Forks on Jan. 15. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

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