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Published February 27, 2011, 03:27 PM

Fire Near Argusville Destoys Longtime Cass Co. Deputy's Home

A fire on Saturday destroyed the rural Argusville home of a longtime Cass County sheriff’s deputy who recently had a pistol stolen from his home, allegedly by a suspected convenience store robber.

By: Mike Nowatzki, Forum Communications

ARGUSVILLE, N.D. – A fire on Saturday destroyed the rural Argusville home of a longtime Cass County sheriff’s deputy who recently had a pistol stolen from his home, allegedly by a suspected convenience store robber.

Sgt. DuWayne Nitschke said he and his wife were driving home from shopping in Fargo when they spotted smoke coming from their farmstead and called 911 just before 4 p.m.

“Right now, we’re kind of in shock, and we really don’t know what the cause of it was,” he said Saturday night.

Nitschke and his wife, Darcy, lived in the two-story home with three children.

No one was home at the time of the fire, he said.

The house was engulfed in flames by the time they arrived, he said. By 6:30 p.m., the roof had collapsed and the walls were coming down, Cass County Sgt. Mitch Burris said.

“It’s a total loss. It’s almost to the ground,” Burris said.

Nitschke, who has worked for the sheriff’s office for 26 years, said he’s lived on the seven-acre farmstead two miles west and one mile south of Argusville for about 25 years and had added on to the house twice.

“It’s a beautiful farmstead, and we had a really nice home here, and now it’s gone,” he said. The house was insured, he said.

The family’s pet dog, a Chihuahua-Dachshund cross named Sadie, died in the blaze. Two Labrador retrievers and their five puppies that also lived on the farmstead were taken to a West Fargo kennel.

Firefighters and authorities hadn’t been able to get close enough to the fire to determine if any foul play was involved, Burris said.

“We have no idea what started it, what happened. We’re just thankful that no one’s hurt,” he said.

As The Forum reported earlier this week, a man charged in the Feb. 10 armed robbery of a Stop-N-Go store in Moorhead is suspected by Moorhead police of stealing a .38-caliber pistol owned by Nitschke. According to court records, the suspect, James Clint Layfayette Taylor, 21, of Fargo, admitted to Nitschke’s stepson that he had stolen the pistol, said he’d return the gun and then didn’t.

The gun is mentioned in the complaint against Taylor, but it’s not clear if police working the case believe the pistol was used in the Moorhead Stop-N-Go robbery in which three black men with their faces covered entered the store demanding cash, one of them pointing a handgun at the clerk.

Taylor remained in custody Saturday at the Wadena County Jail, where he’s being held on an alleged probation violation. The other two suspects in the robbery remain at large.

Nitschke and Cass County Chief Deputy Jim Thoreson said they didn’t believe the fire and the stolen pistol case were connected.

“Never even crossed my mind,” Nitschke said. “That was a whole separate issue.”

“I’d be surprised if they didn’t find this electrical,” Thoreson said of the fire’s cause.

To avoid a conflict of interest, a deputy state fire marshal will arrive today to investigate the fire, Thoreson said.

Nitschke said he was thankful for the support pouring in from the sheriff’s office, fire departments, Red Cross and other agencies.

“I really appreciate all of the people that have come forward and have provided some assistance,” he said.

The family will stay at his sister’s home in West Fargo until they figure out their next step, he said.

Temperatures Saturday evening hovered around zero, creating tough conditions for firefighters from Argusville, Harwood, Gardner and Grandin. The Salvation Army also was on scene to assist the family and firefighters.

Nowatzki is a reporter at The Forum in Fargo

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