A blaze leveled the large Camp Nenookaasi homeless encampment Thursday, sending billowing smoke over south Minneapolis as residents were forced to evacuate.

Camp leader Nicole Mason said she was at the site when she noticed a yurt was on fire. Several neighbors said they heard explosions amid the flames.

"I went to get an extinguisher and saw the fire was spreading from yurt to yurt, so I thought the first thing was to get everyone out," Mason said.

A call came in a little after noon about the fire in the 1100 block of E. 28th Street, Fire Chief Bryan Tyner said at a news conference. Firefighters evacuated roughly 50 nearby residents and put out the blaze in about 30 minutes, the chief said.

An investigation into the cause of the fire was underway Thursday. Propane tanks could be seen scattered around the camp's remains, and Tyner said the flammability of the site made for a "very dangerous situation."

"What we saw today is kind of our worst fear when you have that situation," Tyner said.

Two people suffered minor injuries, one with burned hands and another with smoke inhalation, Tyner said. Neither needed to be hospitalized.

At the news conference, Mayor Jacob Frey reiterated past statements that large homeless encampments aren't safe for the people living there "and they're not safe for the surrounding neighbors."

The city's Homeless Response Team and outreach workers from other organizations were at the site offering to connect people to shelter and providing clothing and water, according to a fire department news release. A Metro Transit bus was also on the scene to provide a warm place for people who were evacuated.

Ashley Jensen, who lives in a house next to the encampment, was waiting behind caution tape on the sidewalk as firefighters inspected her home. Some of the house's siding melted and the interior was flooded with water from fire hoses.

"Everyone was screaming and running around, and that's why I evacuated," Jensen said. She said she heard several explosions before running down the sidewalk, and that camp residents "were trying to grab their things and get out, but the fire was spreading super fast."

Jensen said she was asked by the City Attorney's Office just days before the fire whether she had safety concerns about the camp. "Absolutely, on so many levels," she said.

The encampment was the latest iteration of Camp Nenookaasi, which has moved multiple times after the city dismantled and fenced off its previous locations.

Many of the camp's residents are Native Americans with tribal affiliations, struggling with a complex mix of addiction and trauma. Those issues have made it difficult for them to use sober emergency shelters, and complicate the work of the nonprofit agencies trying to match them with services and suitable housing.

The city recently contracted with the for-profit group Helix Health and Housing Services to assist with finding housing solutions for Camp Nenookaasi residents. So far it has connected over 100 people with low-barrier housing, City Operations Officer Margaret Anderson Kelliher said at the news conference.

Mason said some camp residents have had issues with the housing that Helix selected for them, such as not feeling safe with their roommates.

While Frey told reporters the city's approach to finding long-term housing solutions is working. City Council Member Jason Chavez disagreed. He said he doesn't think the city's solutions are working.

"If the administration had a plan, as in an encampment response, one can beg the question that just maybe people would be using different things to keep each other warm, but there is no policy," Chavez said.

Frey took issue with Chavez's comments Thursday night.

"We do have a strategy that's less dangerous — it's called getting people indoors," the mayor said.

Several Minneapolis City Council members, including Chavez, are pushing a "safe outdoor spaces" ordinance, which would permit outdoor encampments in certain circumstances. In a phone interview, Chavez stressed that Frey has the authority to decide on camp closures.

Mason said some of the camp residents had already moved Thursday to a new location, in the 2800 block of 14th Avenue S.

"It was scary that as we were running out, the fires were coming. We didn't know how fast they were going to catch up to us," she said.

Staff writers Susan Du and Dave Orrick contributed to this story.