Three children among five dead in Minneapolis fire
MINNEAPOLIS — Paul Cox woke up about 4:45 a.m. Friday when he and his family smelled smoke.
They ran outside and saw their upstairs neighbor leaning out a back window of their burning duplex, screaming. Cox asked the man what was on fire.
“The heater,” the man said.
Cox eventually saw three people escape the upstairs unit, which included a third floor of the house. The man lived there with seven children. His girlfriend had moved out Thursday, Cox said.
The early-morning fire in North Minneapolis left five people dead — at least three of them children — and one firefighter injured. All the fatalities came from the upstairs unit, Cox said.
Two of the deceased children were in first and second grade at Bethune Community School in Minneapolis, a school spokesman said.
Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said the fire started in the living-room area in the middle of the second floor. Three people died at the scene, two others at the hospital.
More than 40 firefighters converged in the 2800 block of Colfax Avenue North in the Hawthorne area of Minneapolis once the blaze was reported shortly after 5 a.m., said Assistant Fire Chief Cherie Penn.
The identities of the victims had not yet been released.
Heavy smoke and flames were pouring from the second floor of the three-story home when crews arrived. The fire grew quickly, weakening the structure and challenging firefighters coping with frigid temperatures.
“Our firefighters worked in very precarious conditions,” Fruetel said.
Fruetel told reporters Friday afternoon that an inside stairway between the first and second floors was destroyed. Firefighters reached victims via an outside stairway and a ladder they propped against the house.
The building was up to code, according to Fruetel. It was inspected by the city last summer and issued a new rental license a week ago.
While the inspection report showed minor violations — including a call to repair smoke detectors — all were fixed, Minneapolis city spokesman Matt Laible said.
The property owner, Paul Bertelson, told The Associated Press that the occupants of the upper unit had lived there six to eight months.
Fifteen people lived at the address, fire officials said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but an investigator at a news conference said there was no sign of arson. The Office of Pipeline Safety is assisting Minneapolis officials in the investigation, according to the Minnesota fire marshal’s office.
The injured firefighter suffered a muscle strain and was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Fruetel said.
Others injured in the fire were taken to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale and HCMC.
The total number of people injured, or the extent of their injuries, was not immediately known.
The Red Cross is offering aid to those affected by the fire.
Emily Gurnon contributed to this report.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.