MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Federal investigators are now in St. Paul probing the cause of the fire that raged Tuesday in the heart of Minnesota’s capital city.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) said that its National Response Team arrived in downtown St. Paul Thursday morning. The team of veteran investigators is working with local officials to investigate the fire that engulfed a construction site across from the Xcel Energy Center.
“Based on the size of the building, amount of fire damage and number of investigative leads, the St. Paul Fire Department and our local ATF office requested the assistance of ATF’s National Response Team,” Special Agent in Charge Terry Henderson, of the St. Paul Field Division, said in a statement.
When asked if arson was one of the leads, an ATF spokeswoman said that it was a possibility. However, no specifics were given as the investigation is still in its early stages.
The under-construction building that went up in flames early Tuesday was called the Seven Corners Gateway, a $69 million luxury apartment/hotel project. Officials say an initial assessment found that the five-story hotel portion of the project sustained the majority of the damage.
Doran Companies, the construction company, said in a statement Tuesday that it’s working to secure the site so that officials can safely investigate the fire’s cause.
The building’s developer, the Kaeding Development Group, told the Pioneer Press that it plans to rebuild.
The fire started before dawn Tuesday. St. Paul fire crews began battling the blaze shortly after 4 a.m., when flames were leaping into the sky, sending up a huge plume of black smoke that was visible from weather radar.
Mitch Ruele woke up to the smell of smoke from inside the Dorothy Day homeless shelter, less than a block away.
“What a sight to see,” he said. “The whole thing was engulfed in a ball of fire going up as high as 10, 11 stories.”
The heat from the fire melted nearby traffic lights. Charred debris littered downtown St. Paul, and some ashes flew miles away, landing in nearby suburbs.
St. Paul firefighters quickly got the blaze under control. By daybreak, the fire was reduced to smoking hotspots. No one was hurt.
This is the fifth time this year that the ATF’s National Response Team has responded to a Minnesota fire. In recent months, the team worked on dozens of arson investigations in the Twin Cities stemming from the unrest after the death of George Floyd. In January, it investigated the Press Bar and Parlor fire in St. Cloud.
Prior to this year, the National Response Team hadn’t stepped foot in Minnesota since 2004.