Authorities suspect arson was behind an apartment building fire near St. Cloud that forced some people inside to throw children from windows to safety.

The blaze began late Monday morning in a second-floor hall in the 24-unit Sundial Apartments on S. 7th Street, according to fire officials.

The fire sent “people jumping from second- and third-story” windows, Fire Chief Jim Aleshire said in a statement issued Tuesday under the headline: “Arson suspected in Waite Park apartment fire.”

“Many were forced to jump and throw their children out windows,” the statement said. Others were led down ladders by firefighters.

Five people were hospitalized with minor injuries, the chief said.

The Red Cross assisted more than 40 displaced residents.

Authorities have not said what makes them suspect arson. The building’s owner declined Wednesday to field questions about the fire.

A reward of up to $5,000 is available through the Minnesota Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators.

The state fire marshal’s division and local authorities are urging people with information about how the fire started to call the Minnesota Arson Hotline at 1-800-723-2020 or Waite Park police at 1-320-251-3281. Callers can remain anonymous.

Paul Walsh