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Cause of Galleria on 42nd blaze in Fargo deemed undetermined

Firefighters battle the Oct. 11 fire at the Galleria on 42nd apartment complex in Fargo. Forum file photo

A fire investigator says he couldn't confirm that smoking caused an Oct. 11 blaze that heavily damaged the Galleria On 42nd apartment complex in south Fargo, displacing 150 residents.

The cause of the fire will officially go down as undetermined, Fargo Fire Capt. John Arens said Monday.

Arens said he identified the fire's point of origin as the first-floor balcony outside Apartment No. 114 on the west side of the complex.

He said the fire started near a plastic coffee can used for discarding smoking materials. He said he initially was told the can was metal but later was told it was plastic.

"It could have been smoking, but I don't have anybody to admit that anybody was smoking there," he said of the cause.

"I can't guess, so it's going to be undetermined," he added.

Even if smoking had been identified as the fire's cause, Arens said that without an admission, there would be no way of knowing if the cigarette butt came from tenants in the first-floor unit, from tenants in a unit above them or from someone just walking by.

Arens said he examined an outlet on the deck, but it didn't appear to cause the fire, and there was no evidence anything had been plugged into it.

He thanked the many witnesses who submitted pictures and shared their observations of the fire. One witness claimed to have seen the fire contained to the first-floor deck, and burn patterns support that area as the fire's origin, Arens said.

Arens said he was still typing his report and logging pictures, and he expects to file his report after the beginning of the year.

The fire investigation is closed, but Arens said it can be reopened if more information comes to light.

"I've pretty much gone as far as I can go, so it's going to leave it undetermined," he said.

The future of the three-story building, which had its third floor destroyed in the fire, also is unclear.

Dan Hollwegner, vice president of operations for Investors Management & Marketing of Minot, N.D., which managed the complex, referred questions to an attorney for its owners, whom he has identified in the past as a group of Twin Cities investors.

The attorney, Sarah Herman, did not return a phone message left Monday afternoon.

Fargo Inspections Administrator Ron Strand said he has been in contact with Herman, but she hasn't made a definitive statement about the apartment's future.

City inspectors believe the fire and water damage is too extensive for the complex to be rebuilt in compliance with city codes, Strand said.

"I think it's un­questionably our position that it should be torn down," he said.