MANDAN, N.D. -- Many residents of the Sunset Bluffs apartments in north Mandan weren't home during the Sunday, July 14, afternoon fire that displaced them and learned about it over the phone.
Susie Vogel was at her job at Dakota Zoo in Bismarck when she was sent a photo of the three-story building in flames. It took about 24 hours before her 10-month-old cat, Peaches, was found and returned to her.
Vogel had rescued the cat when it was 5 weeks old and was in tears when she was reunited. But she's worried about the pets belonging to her neighbor, who is out of town.
Authorities on Monday were still searching for the cause of the fire and were still investigating the status of the three-story, 42-unit building. No injuries were reported aside from several firefighters who suffered heat exhaustion, but dozens of families have been displaced.
Vogel has lived on the first floor for about 1 ½ years and, for now, is staying with her brother.
Shannon Cone, who has lived on the first floor for 2 ½ years, is staying at the Comfort Inn. She was travelling back from a wedding in Wyoming when she received a call saying, “I’m really sorry, but your apartment’s on fire.”
“I had two kitties in there — for four hours we just cried and prayed that the kitties, that we’d find them,” she said.
Her cats, Oreo and Buddy, eventually were found. But after Tuesday, she needs to find another place to live.
“I don’t know where I’ll go,” she said.
Shona Jones had just moved into her second-floor apartment a month ago. She and her son had just gotten settled with groceries, furniture and clothes. She was working at her job as a certified nursing assistant in Richardton when she got the call about the fire.
Her fiance, Bryce Bell, was at the apartment with her 8-year-old son, Quodan, and his nieces Karnyn Moore, 7, and Kaniyah Moore, 3, and her American bulldog, Zeus. He got them all out safely.
The kids hadn’t eaten yet, since they sleep in late during the summer.
“They had to get up, get dressed and get out,” Jones said.
Her best friend’s fiance, who also lives in the building, started knocking on resident's doors to notify people of the fire because sprinklers and alarms didn't immediately go off, she said.
Those families are now displaced, without food, shelter or extra clothes.
The Blackstone Hotel, located about a mile from the apartment building, has about 50 families staying there, said Patty Barrette, a Bismarck resident helping coordinate donations. The Comfort Inn, also nearby, has 11 families, but the hotel is booked after Tuesday and the displaced families will need to find other options. Other apartment residents are staying with family, friends or other hotels in the area.
Only one of the 42 apartments was not occupied, said Philip Butz, manager of Eagle Eye Management. He could not immediately say how many residents or pets were staying in the complex. He is working to identify other available apartments for them within Eagle Eye Management.
Residents said they are grateful for the donations and other support from the community.
“People have just been amazing in this community, donating and just helping out. It’s just been amazing,” Vogel said.
Jones, originally from Hattiesburg, Miss., lived through Hurricane Katrina as a young teenager and said her experience in this disaster is much different.
“Katrina hit, and you could tell it was different; everything was dark, people would ransack in different houses, stealing from them — I was scared about that," she said. "But ... I came here and people are so giving; they’re giving hugs."
She has had people bring her dog food and toys, gift cards, dish sets and clothes.
“I am so grateful to the firemen or whoever it was that rescued my babies,” Cone said. “I’ve got a lot of stuff in there that’s important to me, but I can replace that stuff. My cats I couldn’t have replaced.”
Most people are being told their apartments are a total loss, residents said. Many lack renter insurance to cover any damage, according to the Morton County Office of Emergency Management.
“I do have renters insurance. I’m blessed, but there’s a whole lot of people that don’t,” Cone said.