Firefighters are working to determine the cause of a blaze that destroyed three buildings in downtown Winona, but Fire Chief Curt Bittle said Saturday there’s no evidence that the fire was anything but accidental.

“There was nothing blaring that it was anything out of the ordinary than an accidental fire, but like I said, it’s being investigated,” Bittle said.

The Winona fire marshal is investigating, and the St. Paul office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) dispatched several investigators to assist authorities on the scene, but the agency said its participation should not be interpreted as pointing to arson as a cause.

The fire erupted early Friday in downtown Winona, burning through an Islamic center that has been a religious hub for decades. The blaze apparently began at the center.

Though the block’s upper stories contain dozens of apartments, there were no known injuries.

Winona Fire Marshal Jim Multhaup said Friday that before investigators can even guess at a cause, they’ll need to remove debris and reconstruct the scene, looking for fire patterns. They could have more answers in a week, he said.

“We’re going to kind of hold with the theory that it’s under investigation, which it is,” Bittle said.

Adam Belz