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Published January 01, 2014, 10:21 AM

Explosion, fire at Minneapolis apartment building injures 14, 6 critically

MINNEAPOLIS – At least 14 people were injured, six of them critically, after an explosion early Wednesday resulted in a fire at a three-story building in a Minneapolis neighborhood.

By: By Will Ashenmacher, Nick Woltman, C.J. Sinner and Raya Zimmerman, St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS – At least 14 people were injured, six of them critically, after an explosion early Wednesday resulted in a fire at a three-story building in a Minneapolis neighborhood.

Not all of the residents had been accounted for Wednesday night in the brick building with a grocery store on the ground floor and apartment buildings above, according to the Minneapolis Fire Department.

Fire Chief John Fruetel said it isn’t known how many people were in the building when the fire broke out at 8:16 a.m., so it can’t yet be determined how many need to be located. He said it’s possible that there are people still inside.

In an audio file of the police call that reported the fire, an officer could be heard saying that people were jumping from second-floor windows and that injured residents were on the street.

“It’s not clear whether people were pushed out of the building from the explosion or whether they fell or jumped out of windows to escape,” said Robert Ball, a spokesman for Hennepin County Emergency Medical Services.

Hennepin County Medical Center was treating 10 of the victims from the building, including three people in critical condition. Hospital spokeswoman Christine Hill said all had suffered burns, broken bones or both.

In a news conference Wednesday afternoon near the scene of the fire, Fruetel said there were inspectors on the scene looking at the structure but it was too early to tell what caused the explosion and fire. He said there were no injuries among firefighters.

The building, at 516 Cedar Ave. in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood east of downtown Minneapolis, is believed to be a total loss. Fruetel said it’s possible the building is so structurally damaged that it could collapse. It was last inspected in 2012 and had no outstanding inspection issues, according to the Minneapolis Fire Department.

Abdisalam Adam, the chairman of the board of directors at the neighboring Masjid Dar Al-Hijrah mosque, said the fire didn’t damage the mosque, although it no longer has electricity and there is water damage from what Adam thinks came from the fire hoses. He said he is concerned about the pipes freezing.

The morning’s temperatures of about 10 degrees below zero hindered firefighting efforts, making it difficult to draw water from fire hydrants and avoid falling on ice and posing a danger to crews as they quickly switched from frigid weather away from the fire to the heat closer to the blaze.

“I know we’ve had a number of trips and falls but no reported injuries (to firefighters), which is remarkable,” Fruetel said.

Mist and water from the fire hoses created a coat of ice on firefighters’ ladders, the exterior of the building and nearby trees. At least twice, large branches became so heavy with ice that they broke from the trees and fell onto Cedar Avenue.

Fruetel said that when firefighters arrived, flames were shooting as high as 20 feet from the windows of the building’s second and third floors.

About 50 firefighters and several rigs were on the scene as of 9:30 a.m. Smoke from the fire clouded the neighborhood and the stretch of Interstate 94 that runs perpendicular to Cedar Avenue.

By 11:30 a.m. or so, it appeared that active efforts to control the fire had largely concluded, although firefighters were still unable to enter the building Wednesday afternoon because of heat, smoke and possible structural damage.

Mayor R.T. Rybak and Mayor-elect Betsy Hodges visited the scene of the fire Wednesday morning, and in a statement, Gov. Mark Dayton issued his “deepest sympathies to the victims of today’s awful fire in Minneapolis and to their families and friends.”

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