Fatal Garage Fire Blamed On Careless Smoking

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Authorities say the garage fire that killed a man on the east side of St. Paul Thursday morning was likely caused by careless smoking.

Don Pnewski, 53, was trapped in the fire that spread rapidly through the free-standing garage he was using as a home.

The fire broke out at about 2 a.m. on the 800 block of Juno Street. Shortly after they arrived the roof collapsed. St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard said the blaze was not survivable.

Pnewski died from smoke inhalation, according to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner.

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.

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.

  • Michael

    What happened is really sad… this must be really difficult for the family. Don was the brother of my Spanish teacher, and from what we’ve heard, there unfortunately is a lot of misinformation going around in the media’s haste to publish what happened. I don’t know the credibility of this story, but the details seem to be contradicting from story to story. We were warned not to believe anything we hear or read, and I caution others to do the same.

    • samantha

      I have been combing the reports trying to get a photo of this man. Theres a guy named donny, never knew his last name, who frequents our neighborhood either walking or on his bike, it has a carrier on the back. We always knew this man as kind of a nomad, said though he lived just a few blocks away. Always talked about taking care of his mother, he would sometimes do lawn work for us, always helpful like what everyone is describing. He was just working on our lawn a week prior to the fire, and we have not seen him since. He came over on st patricks day to share his bottle of vodka he had bought with us and dinner since we were grilling that day. He mentioned he was scananavian but joked that we could celebrate st pattys day anyhow. We considered this man a friend. I have been worried this might be him, as we have not seen him, and usually he stops by every few weeks, especially since the weather has been pleasant. Some things though have not fit what I read about. It said he was a heavy smoker and our donny did not smoke. It said this was in st paul but our donny always said he lives just a few blocks away from our house in minneapolis (although my husband thought he might be homeless and just holding his pride) , but the description other than that seems to fit him to a t. I keep hoping someone will post a picture. Did this donny have long sandy brown hair? was he tall? when he did work was is construction realted? Its driving me nuts thinking this could have been our friend. He was a kind , generous and caring person who was always helping us out with our huge yard, odd jobs etc.

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