Investigators search the scene of a fatal fire at the Downtown Motel in St. Charles, Minn. on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. Authorities say one person was found dead in the motel fire. Police say 47-year-old Vincent Edward Wright, of Avon, S.D., had checked into the Downtown Motel earlier Thursday and was the only one registered to the room. Three other motel guests escaped unharmed when fire broke out about 11 p.m. (AP Photo/The Winona Daily News, Andrew Link) MANDATORY CREDIT
Back-to-back fires struck a motel late at night in the southeastern Minnesota city of St. Charles, killing one traveler who had arrived that day and severely damaging the building that its owners called home, authorities said.
The first blaze struck the Downtown Motel across from City Hall shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, said Fire Chief Lyle Peterson, engulfing four rooms as it was "free-burning" through the roof and several windows, Peterson said.
Firefighters were summoned again about 4:30 a.m. to put out the second blaze.
Peterson said that he and his crew members "were very surprised" to be called back about an hour or so after clearing the scene from the initial blaze.
While the chief said investigators have yet to determine what caused either fire, "I'm kind of suspicious by nature. Until I can rule out [arson], I always keep that on the forefront."
Vincent E. Wright, 47, of Avon, S.D., was killed in the blaze, said Police Chief Bill Eckles. The chief said Wright had checked into the 10-unit motel on Thursday.
Along with being a motel, the business is also the owners' home, said Marie Barrientos, whose Red Cross chapter responded to the blaze with temporary lodging for Lisa and Terance Johnson and their three children. The family of five was not hurt in the fire, nor were four others who were either renting rooms or living there.
Barrientos said the Red Cross has arranged for "places to stay in the St. Charles area for the next couple of nights" for the Johnsons and the others.
Paul Walsh 612-673-4482