St. Paul house fire ignited by unattended candle kills one man

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2014 - 8:04 AM

7 people were in the Hamline-Midway residence; candle left burning is blamed

Flames were roaring from every second-floor window when firefighters arrived at a St. Paul home early Sunday, and they worked quickly to try to save 25-year-old Dan Trabant, who had been trapped in the burning home while six others fled — some by leaping from a porch roof.

Trabant died Sunday afternoon at Regions Hospital in St. Paul from injuries suffered in the blaze that investigators blamed on a candle left burning after the residents went to bed. The candle ignited curtains in a second-floor bedroom.

The fire caused $180,000 damage to the century-old house at 1410 Van Buren Ave. in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood A house next door had about $10,000 of damage — mostly melted vinyl siding and damaged windows, said St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard.

Unattended candles are the third-leading cause of building fires, Zaccard said, following only careless smoking and unattended cooking. Trabant was the second fire death in St. Paul this year. Christopher Meusburger, 30, died Jan. 12 in an apartment in the 700 block of Glendale Street near University Avenue. The cause of that fire apparently was a pot left burning on the stove.

Smoke detector worked

Zaccard said there was one working smoke detector in the house on Van Buren, adding that the device helped save the lives of six people. Two people in the house woke up to the alarm and called to the others. The residents tried to extinguish the fire with water and a fire extinguisher, but soon realized they needed to get out. Four went out the front door; two others went out through the second-floor windows onto the front-porch roof, then jumped about 12 feet to the safety of the front yard. Most were without shoes or street clothes, and neighbors took them in so they could stay warm, authorities said.

Zaccard said he didn’t know why Trabant wasn’t able to get out safely. He said an autopsy on Monday by the Ramsey County medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death.

Extinguish candles

Six young people lived in the house, which was bought in 2011 by a Rochester couple for their 20-year-old son. A woman also was staying overnight in the house. The homeowner did not return calls Sunday.

By Sunday afternoon, the charred windows were boarded up. A burned CD and a shoe sat in the ash-filled side yard. Neighbor Ron Peterson said one of the residents was in a band and apparently lost all his equipment in the fire. Peterson said that he and other neighbors were awakened by the commotion and that the fire was loud and dramatic.

Another neighbor said a house near the end of the block caught fire because of careless smoking a year ago February. The owners of that house had to rebuild the entire second floor and just moved back in the past couple of months.

Zaccard warned people to never leave the house or go to bed with a candle still burning. “They’re nice, they’re beautiful, but they’re an open flame and they’re dangerous,” he said. He advised people to use electric candles when possible. If you must burn a candle, make sure it’s on a solid base and at least 3 feet from curtains, bedding or other combustible items.

He also cautioned against fighting a fire by yourself and urged sprinklers, which soon will be required in all new homes larger than 4,500 square feet.

Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284

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  • The home on Van Buren Avenue in St. Paul had flames shooting from second-floor windows early Sunday. A neighbor described the blaze as loud and dramatic.

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