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Fire damages historic home on National Register

Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service Firefighters and family members survey the Kinzler home following a fire Thursday in south Fargo.

FARGO -- Hours after orange flames erupted from the roof of his 118-year-old home, Don Kinzler was optimistic.

"I'm so happy that this much is left," he said, assessing the damage to his 1895 Victorian house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. "The ceilings can be redone, but the structure, the woodwork, the neatness of the house, is still here. It'll just take work to get it right again."

Don and his wife, Mary, along with their two children who live at the house, 12-year-old Jacob and 13-year-old Isaac, woke to the smell of smoke at 5 a.m. Thursday.

After Mary heard crackling noises, Don, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's weekly gardening columnist, opened the door to the walkup attic and saw smoke.

"My first thought was to get the kids out. My heart just sank. That much smoke, obviously something was on fire," he said, adding that the smoke alarms on the second floor didn't go off because it wasn't smoky enough.

Mary's keen sense of smell likely saved the house from extensive damage.

"Someone was watching out for us," she said.

In the first 10 minutes they were on the scene, firefighters pumped 1,500 gallons of water onto the house, Don Kinzler said.

The fire was contained to the third-floor attic area, and the rest of the house has light damage. The Fargo Fire Department hasn't determined the cause yet, but Kinzler presumes the old wiring on the third floor played a part.

House history

The age and craftsmanship of the home enchanted the Kinzlers in 1991 when they saw it on West Lincoln Avenue in Fergus Falls, Minn. Known as the Webber House, the five-bedroom, 2 1/2-bathroom abode was built by prominent businessman Ed Webber.

Although Webber died shortly after the house was built, his wife lived in it until she was 99, and the Kinzlers bought it a few years later.

The Kinzlers owned Agassiz Nursery at the time and wanted the house to be closer to their business, so they uprooted the historic home and moved it to Fargo in December 1991.

During the three-day trek, more than 50 power lines had to be removed for the 45-foot-tall structure, according to Forum archives.

Once the house was in Fargo, Don and Mary worked on restoring it, mostly the exterior. The first floor survived the Red River flood of 1997, only requiring new electrical wiring.

The interior didn't need much work and contains original hardwood flooring and light fixtures, impeccable stained glass windows and ornate woodwork.

Paul Davis Restoration & Remodeling of West Fargo told Kinzler on Thursday that it will take four to six months to get the house in top shape again. For now, the family is staying at a hotel provided by the Red Cross. Kinzler hopes they can live in their house of 22 years while the repairs take place.

The process reminds him of the diligence that was required to own the house decades ago.

"You've got to enjoy it and have the patience, even if everything isn't perfect right away," he said. "We'll get this all fixed up."