Reporting Bill Hudson
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It was just after 2 o’clock Friday morning when the shrill sound of smoke alarms pierced the overnight darkness.
Many residents of the Saint George apartment building just blocks south of downtown Minneapolis thought it was a false alarm. That was until the smell of smoke told them otherwise.
Resident Cynthia Hampton used the light of her cell phone to guide her way out. The fire had cut electricity to the building and lights weren’t working.
“It was dark, it was dark so I couldn’t put on a light or find anything or grab anything. Yes it was, it was very scary,” said Hampton.
As firefighters arrived, it quickly became clear that more were needed. The fire grew to three alarms as flames spread through nooks and crannies of the 93-year-old building.
Assistant Fire Chief Cherie Penn said about 45 firefighters were helping to extinguish the flames. Due to the old construction, however, that proved extremely difficult.
“It’s an old building, constructed in 1919 so we’re confident with the type of building it is that it ran into the pipe chases and fed the horizontal and vertical extensions,” said Penn.
Fortunately, all 32 residents of the building got out safely, some escaping with only blankets to keep them warm. Buses gave them temporary shelter as their former home turned into a smoky, blackened ice castle.
The Red Cross and Salvation Army set up an emergency center in a nearby church to help with basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.
For resident Pamela Price, there’s a lot they can’t give back, including the family photos she lost in her third floor apartment. When the roof of the building caved in she knew instantly that all of her belongings were ruined.
Fighting back tears, Price said, “my 16-year-old beauty shots, my father, he just passed in January, and so it’s all just gone.”
Fire investigators say the fire began in a basement utility area. No cause has yet been determined but investigators are giving close scrutiny to the building’s electrical wiring.