ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Police continue to investigate the death of a man in a garage fire on the east side of St. Paul Thursday morning.
Firefighters say 53-year-old Don Pnewski was trapped in the fire that spread rapidly through the free standing garage. Neighbors said Pnewski had lived in his mother’s garage for seven years because his mother wouldn’t let him stay in the house.
His mother had recently passed away and the house had been sold.
As relatives tried to pick up fragments of Pnewski’s life, friends came by to share memories of a man who had increasingly lived life on the margins.
“He was a wonderful person, very generous,” said friend Chris Beaty.
A half dozen friends said Pnewski had struggled for years with alcohol, that he had not worked a regular job in years and spent much of his days drinking with friends. But all remembered him as a kind man who offered to do jobs.
“During the winter he would shovel sidewalks, during the summer he would cut grass and during the fall he would rake leaves,” Beaty said.
Pnewski’s friends say they he had been worried about moving this week from the garage he had called home.
“He loved his garage. He had his TV, his cable and his bed,” said Beaty.
As friends came to look at the ruins, they struggled to understand what happened.
“It hurts, it hurts. He is going to be missed , missed a lot. He was a very nice man,” said friend Helio Mercado.
The St. Paul Fire Department received the call at about 2:02 a.m., about a half hour after the fire started. Shortly after they arrived the roof collapsed. St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard said the blaze was not survivable.
“It’s hard, we will miss him around the neighborhood sitting outside his garage,” said neighbor Alisa Hollibush.
Zaccard says it is a violation of St. Paul city code to live in your garage. Had inspectors known, Pnewski would have been ordered to leave.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Among the factors they are looking at: The fact that Pnewski was a smoker and that he used space heaters and electric blankets.