Minneapolis high-rise fire claims five lives and injures four, including a fire fighter, USA
A fire that spread through the fourteenth floor of a high-rise apartment in Minneapolis, Minnesota, early Wednesday morning, 27 November 2019, has left five people dead and four others, including a fire fighter, injured. Fire fighters responded to the blaze at about 4am and said that they took about 30 minutes to extinguish the fire, which broke out in a building located at 630 Cedar Avenue South in Minneapolis, USA. The injured fire fighter was treated for an exertion-related injury. It was a “very tragic night at the beginning of the holiday weekend,” said John Fruetel, chief for Minneapolis Fire. Fruetel said units on the 14th floor were “very heavily damaged” are “probably going to be uninhabitable.” He said it appeared the fire had been “burning for a while” before fire fighters arrived. Fruetel added that there had been a lot of evacuations as fire fighters worked to contain flames in the high-rise building.
Fire officials said they were notified of the blaze by a company that operates fire alarms for the building. By the time fire fighters arrived, smouldering flames had burst through glass on the 14th floor and were whipping 10 to 15 feet out of a window, Chief Fruetel said. Inside, he said, fire fighters encountered an “extreme environment of heat and wind-driven fire. I can’t express more how precarious that scenario was,” he said.
The Minneapolis Fire department tweeted while personnel were on the scene that heavy smoke had reached the sixteenth and seventeenth floor and that one resident on the twenty-first floor was “refusing to evacuate.”
Four of the five deceased civilians were “found on the fourteenth floor and were pronounced dead on the scene,” Minneapolis Fire said in its statement. Another victim died in an area hospital, where he was transferred after he was found in a stairway. The victims’ identities have not yet been confirmed. Three civilians were also taken to the hospital “for various medical concerns, in addition to a fire fighter who suffered a “minor injury.”
Officials were investigating what caused the fire, which left a charred stain on the outside of the tall, brown building. Chief Fruetel said that the fire had started in one unit on the 14th floor and was believed to be accidental but that the agency will continue to investigate the cause of the fire.
Officials provided few details about the building's fire prevention system, including information about alarms, sprinklers or evacuation drills. Jeff Horwich, a spokesman for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, said the alarm system was being reviewed as part of an investigation.
A spokeswoman for the city said that the building’s main floor and mechanical rooms had sprinkler systems but that the rest of the building did not. A fire official said that state building codes now require sprinkler systems in high-rises but that older buildings, like this high-rise, would not have been forced to add sprinklers.
Records from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees public housing complexes, show that the building was inspected in 2015 and passed with a score of 95 points out of 100.
City councilman Abdi Warsame, who toured the complex after the fire, said at least three of the victims were East African, according to the Star Tribune. He called the incident “frightening and saddening,” adding that “most of the people here are seniors or people with disabilities.” “I think the first responders did a good job, they got everybody down and it could have been a lot worse,” Warsame said. “I got a tour of the fourteenth floor and it’s just gutted.”
Jeff Horwich, director of policy and external affairs at the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, said that the limited number of people whose units were affected by the fire would have a place to stay. They would be accommodated within the city’s public housing system, Horwich said.
Casper Hill, spokesman for the city, stated that the fourteenth floor of the building “will not be habitable for some time.” He noted that “remedial clean-up” would be needed on other floors but residents should be able to stay on those floors.
Hill said that apartments that full under the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s domain are primarily inspected by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, not city authorities. However, he noted that the city has done some “complaint-based inspections” inside the building, including one in 2014 related to maintaining fire protection systems. Hill added that the apartment complex is not mandated to have a sprinkler system by code but does have smoke alarms.
Yahye Mohamed, a community leader, said he had previously conducted training in the neighbourhood about how to evacuate during emergencies, including fires. “I’m really disappointed and sad,” he said. “If there were smoke alarms or messages in English,” he said, he worried that residents might not have understood them. “They don’t know how to escape.”
Sources: Associayed Press, MPR News, New York Times