Minneapolis apartment residents escape fast-moving fire

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 9, 2012 - 10:59 PM

Residents will not move back into the south Minneapolis building anytime soon, the fire chief says.

A massive fire that rose from the basement gutted a south Minneapolis apartment building early Friday, obliterating the roof of the three-story 32-unit brick structure and forcing dozens from their homes.

No serious injuries were reported in the fire at the St. George Apartments at 137 E. 17th St., though one resident called 911 and reported being trapped in a bathroom. Firefighters found and rescued the person, said Assistant Fire Chief Cherie Penn.

Resident Jenifer Berndt said she awoke at 2 a.m. to the sound of blaring alarms in her ground-level apartment but wasn't sure at first if the danger was real. It wasn't until she heard an exterior door slamming shut over and over as people fled that she and her daughter left the building, then raced back in to save their cats Bacchus and Dumpins.

"There was smoke coming out of the ceiling," said Leah Berndt, Jenifer's daughter. "There was smoke down the hallway. It was big. It was black."

Built in 1919, the St. George Apartments in the Stevens Square neighborhood overlook the freeway and sit just across it from Minneapolis Fire Station No. 6. The fire started in the basement, eventually growing to three alarms, according to Penn. The cause has not yet been determined.

As the morning rush hour got underway, smoke drifted down onto Interstate 94.

"The fire spread horizontally and vertically -- the first, second and third floors, and then through the roof," Penn said. "The damage extends the entire length of the building. I certainly don't foresee anyone getting back in anytime soon."

About 45 firefighters battled the blaze. They later confirmed that all residents made it out safely. One firefighter suffered a minor injury, but remained on the scene.

The Red Cross and the Salvation Army were assisting residents, and a Metro Transit bus was providing on-site shelter.

By the time the sun rose Friday morning, water from the firefighters' hoses had encased everything nearby in ice, including trees, Dumpsters and a row of vehicles parked in front of the St. George Apartments.

Curtis Bjerke worked with a rubber mallet to break free his Toyota Camry, gently tapping the doors to crack the half-inch-thick ice.

"If I can get in maybe I could just blast the heat," he said, as chips of ice fell from the vehicle.

Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747

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