MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A two-alarm fire fueled by high-speed winds and record heat destroyed one home and badly damaged another in the North End neighborhood of St. Paul.
The winds snapped a tree branch, which downed a power line in the yard of a home near the intersection of Front and Western avenues Wednesday afternoon. The wind then ignited dry vegetation and the flames spread to the home, eventually consuming it.
The fire broke out shortly before 3 p.m., and while the fire station was just a few blocks away, the home was already engulfed when crews arrived. No one was home at the time of the fire.
Facing 50 mile per hour winds, firefighters were unable to prevent the blaze from spreading next door and consuming another home.
A women and her eight children were able to leave safely before the home was heavily damaged by the flames.
Donnell Gibson was on his way to work when he saw three small children standing close to the burning home.
“I just busted a U-turn to try to get to the kids,” he said.
He got out of his car and ran toward them, but they then ran back into the house.
“It was kind of hard because they didn’t understand English,” Gibson said.
With firefighters still on the way, he ran into the burning house after the children. Inside were the children’s mother and more children.
“I didn’t know the house was burning,” the mother said through an interpreter.
Gibson said he punched the wall next to the stairs, “like come downstairs, come down, you guys got to get out.”
One by one, Gibson led the mother and eight children to safety.
“They just kept calling me a hero,” Gibson said. “It meant a lot to me.”
Gibson had went through St. Paul’s EMT training a couple summers ago, and he said he would consider being a firefighter someday.”
Around 3:30 p.m., the St. Paul Fire Department withdrew from the second home to focus resources on defending the surrounding neighborhood. Firefighters say the strong winds also caused a shed across the street to catch fire.
About 60 firefighters helped bring the fire under control by 4:30 p.m.
The dry, windy weather also caused some grass fires to spark up in the metro.
Troopers closed part of Highway 13 in Burnsville, near I-35W, as thick smoke covered the highway.
And in Otsego, a fire swept through a housing development, destroying four homes.
Fire officials warn the flames can spread quickly on days like Wednesday with blustery winds and consistently dry weather.
With temperatures stretching into the 80s, Wednesday was the warmest day of the year so far.