Months after a fast-moving fire ravaged a historic block of buildings along a commercial corridor of north Minneapolis, police and fire investigators said Tuesday that the blaze could have been the result of arson.
Authorities have asked the public for leads or other tips about the West Broadway fire that damaged four buildings and left apartment and business tenants displaced on the morning of April 15.
"We're at a point now in this investigation where we're looking for the help of the public to gather further information," said Sgt. Sean McKenna, a Minneapolis arson investigator. "There is a possibility that this was an intentionally set fire."
The fire started on the floor at the back doorway of Unbank at 913 W. Broadway, McKenna said. About 15 minutes before the fire started, a witness had walked down a nearby stairwell and had not noticed anything unusual.
Authorities said the fire grew in an unusual and quick manner, spread throughout three other buildings, including longtime grocery store, Brix, and the headquarters of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension tested evidence from the blaze and found traces of liquid terpene, which can be highly flammable, where the fire started, McKenna said. The combination of flammable fluid, witness testimony and the possibility that the building's door was open all point to the possibility that someone set the fire, he said.
"We need the public's help to come forward and help us figure out who did this, who jeopardized people's lives; somebody could have been killed and we need your help," said Anthony Newby, director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.
While there were no fatalities, renters and business owners say the blaze dramatically impacted their lives. Eleven apartments were affected by the fire and between 19 and 22 adults lost their belongings.
"I lost everything … everything but my life," said Terrance Cargill, who lived in the 913 building.
Paradise Beauty Salon owner Marie Egbujor whose store was also damaged said she was "very upset" to learn that somebody could have started the fire on purpose.
"We need closure. Please help us," she begged.
City officials have said some or all of the four most damaged buildings from 909 to 915 W. Broadway will likely be demolished. Earlier in July, the owner of Brix Grocery, likely the city's oldest grocery store, said he intended to rehab the building.
It is unclear what the future of the area will be. The most prominent recent redevelopment proposal for that stretch of West Broadway involved tearing down most of the buildings on more than two blocks — including those damaged by the blaze — to make way for apartments, offices and retail space.
The man behind that proposal, Tim Baylor, said recently that he intends to push ahead with the so-called "Satori" development. He first outlined the plan to the city planning commission in June 2014.
"There are answers out there somewhere," McKenna. "This is a busy street, passers-by and I believe that somebody knows what happened."
Anyone with information about the fire should call authorities at 1-800-723-2020.
Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report.