Thanksgiving fire that changed Minneapolis skyline

4:18 PM, Nov 22, 2012   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It was the Thanksgiving fire that forever changed the Minneapolis skyline.

More than 100 firefighters responded to the fire on Nov. 25, 1982. Investigators believe the blaze started in the debris of a mostly demolished Donaldson's Department store and quickly spread to the nearby Northwestern National Bank Building.

"It was very dramatic, and it certainly made your heart pound a bit when making entry into the building," said Chief John Fruetel, who was a self-described "rookie" when the fire broke out that day.

Investigators later determined the fire was a case of arson, likely started by juveniles playing on the debris pile.  For seasoned firefighters, it remains one of the most devastating fires in Minneapolis history.

"It's the biggest one," said Captain Pat Swaggert with the Minneapolis Fire Department.

Swaggert and others recalled the sound of the blaze.

"The whole place started vibrating and rumbling like when a train's coming into the station," he said.

"Just popping, like the ceiling falling," said Tim Davison, also a young firefighter at the time.

No one died or was seriously injured in the fire, a lasting benefit to the fact it sparked on a holiday night.

"If that had been during the workday with the fire going, we would have lost a lot of people," Swaggert said.

As for the lasting effects on individual firefighters -- or the department as a whole -- Chief Fruetel said technology has changed, with improved alarm and sprinkler systems, but firefighters have not.

"Firefighters are always firefighters, always will be. It takes a special breed to do that," he said.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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