An electrical malfunction in an apartment fireplace is suspected of igniting a fire that damaged several residences and retail storefronts along Central Avenue in northeast Minneapolis, according to investigatory records released Wednesday.
The blaze in the 2400 block of Central erupted late Sunday afternoon in an apartment above El Taco Riendo and sent large plumes of smoke skyward as firefighters spent many hours battling the intense flames.
At least five apartment residents got out safely and were receiving assistance from the Red Cross. The businesses were largely unoccupied at the time but were damaged to varying degrees.
"A possible ignition source [are] the electrical cords to a small electrical fireplace in the front corner of the living room," a Fire Department report disclosed.
What caused the cords to catch fire remains undetermined, the report said. A renter who works below and was on the job when he smelled the first hints of smoke said he has had "some electrical issues in the building," the report read, but offered no specifics.
The Fire Department report revealed no evidence that any of the buildings had fire sprinklers. Council Member Kevin Reich, whose ward includes that stretch of Central, said that his time on the scene since the fire revealed to him no sprinklers as well.
"The age of the building, combined with the size and use of the building, would preclude it from an automatic fire sprinkler requirement," Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Tyner said Wednesday.
As fire investigators pressed ahead with their inquiry, three of the tenants learned they will have to find new locations: Anelace Coffee, a Metro PCS cellphone store, and a branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC).
"You gotta laugh or you're gonna cry," said the NALC's Samantha Hartwig in a Facebook Live video, who explained that she had just been sworn in as president, along with her vice president, JoAnn Gilbaugh.
"Unfortunately, our building is a total loss, but don't worry, we're working on getting up and running," Hartwig said. "We're still working on keeping the union moving. We have our new office temporarily out of the back of my car and JoAnn's car."
Gilbaugh added that "we've got a little bit of a glitch here with the building being gone. ... Stay strong, and we'll be working out of the back of our cars."
Reich said Wednesday that he pushed for the preservation of all of the buildings, if possible, but safety concerns and the degree of damage proved too much to overcome.
On a positive note, Reich said that he, the owner of El Taco Riendo and its landlord "were surprised that the first floor [housing the restaurant] was rather unscathed."
And while the apartments above "are gutted," Reich said they are slated for extensive rehabilitation and will be inhabitable at some point.
"This community is committed to working with even the most damaged of properties" to ensure their future, he said.
"There is a certain sense of pride in our history in Northeast," Reich said. "That block of Central Avenue was the poster child of what makes Northeast Northeast."