By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A fire Thursday night destroyed a two-bedroom apartment and damaged a phone line, leaving 700 east end households without phone service.
The fire started about 6 p.m. after oil in a pan was left unattended on a hot stove, Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard said today. Only two of the four apartments in the complex were occupied. No one was injured in the blaze.
All four apartments were damaged, Sheppard said. The southernmost apartment was destroyed, and the other three sustained smoke damage, he added.
At 6:05 p.m., dispatch received an emergency call reporting a structure fire in the 200 block of 10th Avenue, Sheppard said. The Fire Department responded with 12 personnel, two firetrucks and an ambulance.
The flames were out within 10 minutes.
"The cause of the fire was cooking material," Sheppard said. "There was a pan of oil left on an electric cooking range. One of the occupants had left and forgot to turn it off."
Firefighters remained at the scene until close to midnight, removing shingles and portions of wall in search of hot spots, Sheppard said.
Sheppard said the damage to the apartment building was "extensive," but firefighters had not determined an exact dollar amount.
This morning, city workers removed burned furniture and blackened pieces of building from the apartment as a Qwest repair team waited to gain access to the damaged phone line.
Flames from the roof of the building melted a major telephone line that runs above the alley between Second and Third streets in Havre's east end.
Service was cut off to about 700 households, Qwest repairman Larry Schmidt said this morning.
Schmidt was among several workers waiting to repair the line, which runs directly over the gutted apartment. He said he expected service to be restored sometime today.
Natural gas and electricity to the building were shut off Thursday night, leaving one occupant without power. The man, who lives in the northernmost apartment, stayed in a hotel room provided by the Bear's Paw District of the Red Cross. He is expected to be able to return to his apartment today, Sheppard said.
The residents of the destroyed apartment stayed with friends, apartment complex owner Debi Rhines said. Rhines rents out the apartments with her husband, Dave Rhines. The middle two apartments were vacant, she said.
Rhines was at the Great Northern Fair when the Havre Police Department informed her of the fire, she said.
"Needless to say, it was a pretty stressful evening last night," she said. "That was the most devastating fire I've ever personally experienced."
The southernmost apartment was "100 percent destroyed," Rhines said, adding that there is smoke and water damage to the other three units.
The property is insured, she added.