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Boarded-up Minneapolis apartment burns, squatters seen running from scene

Fire officials say eight to 10 people were seen running from the building when firefighters arrived. It is among several recent fires reported at this address.

MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis firefighters put down an early morning fire at a boarded-up apartment building in the Loring Park neighborhood, one of several fires reported at this address in the past month. 

A release from Assistant Fire Chief Melanie Rucker says engines arrived at the 4-story structure on the 200 block of Oak Grove Street shortly before 5 a.m.to encounter flames shooting from a third-story window and eight to 10 people running from the building. 

Crews laid water lines for an exterior attack due to concerns about a weak interior structure in the building, due to multiple reports of previous fires. Once most of the fire was knocked down, boards were cut off the windows and doors to allow a safe interior attack.

Rucker said firefighters on scene removed extension cords, bed sheets and junk ropes that were tied to window frames of the vacant apartment building that squatters have been using to climb up, break windows and gain access to the building. 

The assistant chief added that Minneapolis police were called to the scene because several squatters were attempting to get back inside the fire-damaged building. Officers and fire crews remained on scene until new boards could be put up on the doors and windows. 

Investigators will attempt to determine an exact cause. 

"Unfortunately, these structures (board-ups) attract squatters and illicit activity, such as drug use, vandals and prostitution," Rucker responded to an inquiry from KARE. "Abandoned and vacant structures can be extremely treacherous to firefighters, as they lack structural integrity and may contain other hazards. Unsecured vacant or abandoned buildings are intrinsically more dangerous than occupied structures. Keeping unauthorized occupants out of vacant and abandoned buildings is key to preventing fires."

"The fire department monitors and secures abandoned buildings that are in their responding areas to the best of their abilities," Rucker added. "This building (in Loring Park) has been boarded up but unfortunately this has not kept the squatters out. Thankfully neighbors have been quick to call 911 to report these fires and no one has been hurt or injured."

Monday's fire was just the latest in a recent rash involving squatters and vacant buildings. On July 20 four structures on the 2800 block of 14th Avenue South in the city's Phillips neighborhood were either damaged or destroyed in a fire that started inside a boarded-up home. Assistant Chief Rucker said at the time that it was the third fire involving a boarded-up home that week, posing a challenge to a department shorthanded due to recent retirements. 

Minneapolis police moved in later that day to clear a nearby homeless encampment. City officials released a statement saying the camp was cleared due to ongoing safety concerns, citing the fire that day and the fact crime rates in the neighborhood had increased 53% in the past month. 


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