MANDAN, N.D. — Making an already desperate situation worse, looters struck the apartments of multiple families in a Mandan, N.D., building that was damaged by a major fire this week.

Patty Barnette, coordinator of the Sunset Apartment Fire-Official Facebook page, told Forum News Service that looters hit six units Wednesday night and several more Thursday night, Aug. 12 and 13.

The fire, which broke out in the Sunset Bluffs apartment complex at 1619 31st St. NW on Monday evening, Aug. 10, has displaced about 36 families.

Mandan officials announced Friday, Aug. 14, that the blaze was caused by the "improper disposal of smoking material."

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The fire likely started on a third-floor balcony and spread to the attic of the 36-unit apartment building. In a statement, the Mandan Fire Department said it examined physical evidence and interviewed building tenants to determine the root of the fire.

Along with Mandan firefighters, the Bismarck Fire Department and the Mandan Rural Fire Department responded to the blaze Monday evening, and firefighters were on the scene until 3 a.m. Tuesday.

Monday's fire was the second major fire at the Sunset Bluffs complex in a little more than a year.

A neighboring 42-unit building was destroyed in a fire July 14, 2019, and many of the families forced out of their homes by this week's fire were displaced from the complex for the second time.

Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at