Officials halt cleanup from July 10 fire

An excavator was brought in and parked at the site where a fire destroyed a 5-unit apartment building two weeks ago. Work to clean up the rubble has been halted, pending an investigation into the cause of the fire. Pioneer photo by Wendy Pitlick

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LEAD — The owner of the building that burned to the ground on Stone Street in Lead has five to 10 business days after the fire cause has been determined to clean up the mess, city officials said Monday.

On Tuesday Tony Mangan of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety said the state fire inspector has not yet determined a cause. According to standard procedure, that means the cleanup timeline has not yet started.

Justin Coupens, of Chadron, Neb., owns the building at 104 S. Stone St., which burned on July 10. Firefighters fought for several hours to extinguish the blaze, before finally bringing in an excavator to take the structure down.

“We had to use an excavator to get into where the fire was at because it was not in the rooms, it was in the walls and the floors,” Eggers said.

The rubble, along with all of the items that were left in the residential units, remains more than two weeks later.

Coupens said on Monday that he intends to have the mess cleaned up by Friday. However, city officials report that they received a letter from a Belle Fourche attorney who was retained by one of the displaced tenants. The letter, city officials say, calls for cleanup efforts to be put on hold until a private investigation has been completed for possible litigation. No further information was available about the letter or possible lawsuit, and as of Tuesday there have been no cases filed with the Lawrence County Clerk of Courts.

On Tuesday morning, an excavator was unloaded at the sight of the fire, seemingly to start cleanup. But shortly after, work ceased at the site.

“The city has an order not to remove or touch that pile, and so does the owner, because of an investigation,” said Lead Building Inspector Dennis Schumacher.

At about 7:30 a.m. July 10, crews from Thyssen Mining Company who were at the dry facility next door observed and reported the fire. The employees then rushed into the burning building to alert residents and help them get out of their apartments. One tenant, Michael Larson, suffered serious, life threatening second and third degree burns to his face, hands, arms and back. He is being treated at the Northern Colorado Medical Center in Greeley, Colo.

Coupens, who has owned the building in Lead since 2014 said he rushed to make the more than two-hour trip to Lead as soon as he got the call about the fire. The five-unit building was home to at least nine people, and Coupens said he has been trying to work with his former tenants to help them as much as he can, but he wants others to be aware of the importance of insurance.

“I headed in that direction as soon as I could,” he said. “It was very surreal watching it. If there’s one message I want to get out there, it’s the importance of renters obtaining renters insurance.”

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