A thorough investigation next week is expected to help determine what caused Winona Islamic Center to burn.
Friday’s fire in Winona’s historic downtown started in the Winona Islamic Center and spread across the block, destroying several buildings. Leaders at the center say they plan to reopen the center and have set up a fund to collect donations toward that effort.
An investigation into what caused the fire on Friday that destroyed several buildings in Winona’s downtown is centering, so far, on electrical faults.
Winona Fire Chief Curt Bittle said on Tuesday that investigators for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) did “preliminary work” Saturday examining the remains of the Winona Islamic Center, where the blaze began. Based on that, “they’re leaning [toward] a possible electrical cause.”
But an official cause behind the early morning blaze won’t be determined until a handful of agencies make a thorough investigation Sept. 25.
The ATF declined to confirm that investigators’ findings suggested electrical origins, saying that work is far from complete. “At this point, we certainly are not going to come up with a cause,” spokesman Robert Schmidt said.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Winona Islamic Center, one of Minnesota’s oldest outside the Twin Cities, are making plans to reopen the center.
There is “100 percent agreement” to continue the Islamic center’s 20-year history, said Mohamed Elhindi, president of the center’s board of directors. Longtime leaders are weighing the cost of rebuilding in the same spot in the southeastern city’s historic downtown or going elsewhere.
The building was insured, Elhindi said, but the policy won’t cover the cost of rebuilding. The center has set up a fund at Eastwood Bank to collect donations and a Facebook page to get the word out.
In the meantime, mosque members will gather at local churches that have offered their space, said Elhindi, chief information officer at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Hours after Friday’s fire, worshipers gathered at Central Lutheran Church to pray.
“The Muslim community lost their home, their house,” Elhindi said. “It’s important for them to know that their house will be rebuilt.”
The larger Winona community lost a key community center, he continued. “They share our concern.”
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168