A neighbor’s screams and the screeches of smoke detectors roused more than 30 residents — mostly children — from a burning north Minneapolis fourplex and saved them all from physical harm.
The blaze broke out around 1:20 a.m. Thursday in the two-story building in the 1000 block of N. Newton Avenue, according to fire officials, and was brought under control shortly after 2 a.m. with no injuries and a cause yet to be determined.
The faint smell of smoke was evident more than 10 hours after firefighters knocked down the flames. Several charred and crumpled bicycles were strewn about the backyard amid broken glass. An area in back was broken out and blackened around the edges.
Video recorded by neighbor Rudy Mejia showed spewing smoke, embers and flames as emergency sirens neared in the fire’s first moments.
Mejia, 28, said he looked out the back window of his home across the alley and spied smoke and fire. He said he dashed to the back of the fourplex and alternated warnings in his native Spanish and limited English, yelling “Go, go, go!” and “People, people! Go!”
He explained how he banged on two large lower-level back windows, scratching his forearm, and used a large 2-by-4 propped against a trash can as a battering ram to knock open the back door.
Mejia soon saw two men emerge as they hustled the others outside.
“I would say we are very fortunate that there were no injuries considering the fire occurred in the early-morning hours while 32 people were in the structure,” said Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Tyner. “Crews did an excellent job of bringing the fire under control.”
The building was equipped with smoke detectors, “which did sound appropriately and provided early warning to the residents,” Tyner said, adding that “the building was well-maintained and up to code.”
There was no fire alarm or sprinkler system in the building, which city code does not require, Tyner added.
Once outside, the residents were put on articulated Metro Transit buses and connected with Red Cross volunteers to start arranging delivery of basic needs including temporary lodging, food and clothing.
Red Cross spokesman Carrie Carlson-Guest said “our volunteers were able to work with older children who are bilingual” in communicating with the families.
The four families were taken to nearby Mary’s Place, a shelter that specializes in serving families.
Shelter family advocate Kathy Klement said the families are being provided a place to stay and “gift cards to cover the expenses of food and clothing.”
Another challenge for the Red Cross’ responding volunteers is the concern about interacting with the residents under urgent and stressful circumstances while keeping everyone safe in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, Carlson-Guest said.
“We did practice social distancing,” she said. “We still have home fires, but we’re just [responding] in a different way. Just like everybody else, our volunteers are figuring it out and providing support and compassion.”
As the block-square fourplex stood scarred and empty Thursday afternoon, fire investigators turned their attention to determining the cause of the blaze.