MINNEAPOLIS – A billowing fire engulfed a three-story building with several apartments in Minneapolis early Wednesday, sending 13 people to hospitals – including six who were critically hurt – with injuries ranging from burns to trauma associated with falls.
An explosion was reported about 8:15 a.m., and within minutes, a fire raged through the building, said Robert Ball, a spokesman for Hennepin County Emergency Medical Services. Paramedics, amid sub-zero temperatures, responded to find victims on the ground, some with injuries that suggested they may have fallen multiple stories.
“It’s not clear whether people were pushed out of the building from the explosion or whether they fell or jumped out of windows to escape,” Ball said.
No fatalities have been reported, but authorities weren’t sure whether any residents were still inside the building. Its roof had partially collapsed, making it too dangerous for firefighters to enter and sweep the premises, said Assistant Minneapolis Fire Chief Cherie Penn.
Ten victims, including two in critical condition, were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center suffering from burns, broken bones or both, hospital spokeswoman Christine Hill said. Ball said victims also were taken to Fairview University hospital, whose spokeswoman said she couldn’t release any information.
Penn said 13 people were taken to hospitals, and six were considered to be critically hurt.
Officials said it wasn’t immediately clear what caused the fire. CenterPoint Energy spokeswoman Becca Virden said there were no natural gas leaks in the area.
Plumes of thick, whitish-gray smoke could be seen rising from the building, which has a grocery store on the ground floor and two levels of apartments above it. Flames could be seen through third-story windows, and the frigid air was filled was the acrid smell of smoke.
Abdikadir Mohamed, whose uncle owns the grocery store, watched the scene in silence, struggling to put his thoughts into words.
“This is bad,” he said.
Firefighting efforts were hampered by the cold weather. As firefighters aimed their hoses at the flames, water gushed from windows and doorways, forming icicles on window frames and leaving the street slick and icy.
The facade of the building and trees out front were also coated with a layer of ice.
Ball said the frosty conditions were creating an additional set of hazards for the 55 firefighters on the scene.
“While heat-related illnesses are common for firefighters, now you combine that with the rapid onset of frostbite or hypothermia when they come out and they’re wet and exposed to bitter cold temperatures,” he said.
Fire officials appeared to get the fire under control about 11:30 a.m. Firefighters who had been aiming a hose at the flames from a truck-mounted crane shut off their water, and with smoke still billowing from the roof, other investigators began to approach the front door.
Outgoing Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak told reporters he was “deeply concerned” about the fire.
“I’m also deeply grateful for the firefighters and other crews who came out here and kept it from getting worse,” he said.
A mosque that is next door to the gutted building appeared to escape any obvious structural damage. Abdisalam Adam, the imam at Islamic Civic Society of America & Masjid Dar Al-Hijrah, watched the firefighting efforts and said he was praying for those affected by the fire.
“It’s devastating and very sad,” he said.
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it was monitoring the fire in case the mosque was targeted, said MN-CAIR board member Zuhar Ahmed.