MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A three-alarm fire in north Minneapolis destroyed at least five businesses, sent four people to Hennepin County Medical Center, and had apartment residents scrambling into the street.

By the time fire crews arrived, heavy smoke and fire had already taken over the building where it all started, and it was spreading through the historic stretch of buildings on West Broadway.

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Crews had little time to evacuate people who lived above the businesses and get out before the buildings began to crumble.

Shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday, smoke was seen coming from behind 905, 911 and 913 West Broadway Avenue.

“I went in the back of the store in the building and I could smell smoke,” Nate Abu-Ammo said.

Abu-Ammo says it didn’t take long for the smell of smoke to turn into flames out back of Brix Grocery, a business he’s owned since 1990.

“It’s very sad. I’ve been here all these years and I have developed a good relationship with the community,” he said.

Abu-Ammo watched as firefighters did what they could to put out the flames.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“When you get this kind of involvement with this many addresses, it’s going to be a lot of smoke,” Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetal said.

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The wind helped move the smoke around, blanketing most of North Minneapolis, Fruetal added. The smoke was so thick it was hard to breathe and see.

“We had some natural gas feeding the fire, once that gas was impacted by the initial fire,” Freutal said. “They made entry into the building and they did a primary search of the second floor. … They evacuated those that they found up there. After that, the ceiling on the second floor started to collapse on them, so they had to evacuate.”

Fire crews then went on the defense, trying to keep the fire from spreading. In all, about 40 firefighters responded to the scene.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

The Red Cross was at the scene, providing assistance for as many as 20 individuals.

For Terrance Cargill, watching his home of three years burn and contemplating having to start over was difficult.

“It’s gone, it’s gone,” he said.

He and more than two dozen others will have to find somewhere else to call home.

Neighborhoods Organizing for Change was based in one of those buildings. The group is asking for donations to help those displaced by the fire. Click here if you would like to help.

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View more photos from the fire here.  

Reg Chapman