5 dead, 4 injured in Minneapolis high-rise fire

Flames erupted on the 14th floor of the housing authority's Cedar High Apartments
Image: Minneapolis High-Rise fire
Minneapolis firefighters leave after a deadly fire at a high-rise apartment building, center in background, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, in Minneapolis.David Joles / Star Tribune via AP

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By Ben Kesslen

Five people died and at least four others injured after flames erupted in a high-rise apartment building near downtown Minneapolis early Wednesday, authorities said.

The "tragic" and "horrendous" blaze at the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority's Cedar High Apartments broke out at about 4 a.m. on the 14th floor before heavy smoke also spread up to the 17th floor, authorities said.

The 25-story building, at Cedar Avenue and South 6th Street, is comprised of 191 one-bedroom and studio units with 198 residents, officials said.

The blaze had a “pretty good head start” by the time firefighters were called, according to Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel.

"It had been burning for a while," Fruetel told.

Minneapolis was being pummeled by snow when the blaze erupted and firefighters didn't immediately realize the severity of flames when they first got to the scene.

"It looked like a typical fire alarm, but with the heavy snow and stuff, there was a fire showing out of the 14th floor that they didn't even initially see," Fruetel told reporters in driving snow in the the early morning darkness. "We experienced heavy fire and very high heat."

The victims were not immediately identified.

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“(It was) a very tragic night at the beginning of a holiday weekend,” Fruetel said.

Hours later, Fruetel said the blaze appears "accidental" but that investigators need more time to determine the exact cause.

This happened in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, located in a part of Minneapolis with a large population of Somali immigrants.

City Councilman Abdi Warsame toured the floor that burned and said he's amazed that there were not more victims.

“It was absolutely gutted,” said Warsame, who is Somali-American. “It was horrendous.”

And 53-year-old Minneapolis resident Abdirahman Shire was grateful that his mom, 74, smelled smoke and quickly ran down the building's staircase.

“She said, ‘I open the door and I smelled and I hear the noise and I run,’” Shire said.

The complex has smoke alarms but isn't required to have sprinklers, due to the building's age, according to the housing authority.

Minneapolis Public Housing spokesman Jeff Horwich said authority buildings are made to so flames don't spread.

“The buildings are made of concrete, natural fireproofing between units that typically keeps a fire from spreading,” Horwich said. “Clearly it did spread to multiple units.”

One person could not use the staircase to escape and had to be rescued from an elevator on the 13th floor, officials said. Among the injured was a responding firefighter, the city's fire chief said.

The fire was brought under control at about 6 a.m. , the department tweeted.

"Devastating. Keeping the residents, families, and friends in our thoughts as they wake to news of a tragedy," Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement.

"And all of Minneapolis is grateful to our firefighters who rushed toward danger and responded with courage to an incredibly challenging set of circumstances."

David K. Li and Associated Press contributed.