North Dakota Apartment Fire Kills One

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- A fire that killed a woman and destroyed an apartment building may have been set, authorities said. A witness said he saw a man carrying a can of gasoline in the apartment's front stairwell before the fire broke out.

The blaze late Sunday gutted the three-story building, which had 12 two-bedroom apartments. Bismarck Police Lt. Dan Donlin and Rob Carlson, an acting battalion chief for the Bismarck Fire Department, said the fire was being investigated as arson.

LeRoy McKelvey II said he lived in an apartment on the building's ground floor with his girlfriend. McKelvey said he saw a man enter the building with a 5-gallon gasoline can shortly before the fire started.

McKelvey, 22, said he knew the man, and identified him later from a police photo array. Police were seeking the man for questioning.

The man's former girlfriend lived in another apartment on the building's ground floor, McKelvey said. She escaped the fire.

''A guy came in with a gas can and sat it on the floor by the furnace,'' McKelvey said. Later, he said, ''I heard the fire alarm. There was a bunch of fire.''

Another man helped McKelvey and his girlfriend escape by breaking out an apartment window, he said.

Donlin said one woman died in the blaze, and other person was taken to hospital. Carlson said firefighters, after arriving on the scene, first concentrated on making sure no one was in the apartments rather than on extinguishing the blaze.

''They went in, and did searches and rescues as rapidly as they could,'' Carlson said.

No other victims were found, and firefighters were finishing their work shortly after 11 p.m.

''Five minutes after I got here, I knew the building was going to be a total loss,'' Carlson said.

A one-block perimeter around the building was taped off Sunday night, and the location was being treated as a crime scene. A portion of North Washington Street, which is a major north-south thoroughfare in Bismarck, was blocked.

The apartments are across the street from a small shopping mall and a service station.

The building's owner, Ed Hasche of Bismarck, said the apartments were a total loss. All were rented, at $420 to $430 a month. He was unsure of the financial impact of his loss.

''I guess I wouldn't venture a guess until our insurance company gets in here,'' Hasche said.