City leaders monitor conditions after fire at Minneapolis homeless encampment

November 20, 2018 05:24 AM

A fire and small propane tank explosions at a Minneapolis homeless encampment sent one person to the hospital with smoke inhalation and city leaders said they are watching safety conditions closely as winter approaches.

The city estimates about 300 people live in tents at the encampment along the intersection of Hiawatha and Franklin Avenues in south Minneapolis.

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The fire is still under investigation and James Demo, who said he lives in the encampment with his mother and girlfriend, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he heard the propane tanks popping and then ran out of his mother's tent to safety.

RELATED: Firefighters respond to fire at Minneapolis homeless encampment 

"After I heard the second 'boom,' I went outside to see what had happened," Demo said. "And, when I got out there was chaos and flames everywhere to my right."

Demo said he, his girlfriend and mother all escaped injury-free in the fire and explosions but was not certain Monday night when he would be allowed to go back to his tent.

"They have not let us go back to our tent to see what we can get to stay warm," Demo said. "Right now, none of us is certain when we will be able to get a few blankets and things for when it is cold at night."

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Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said firefighters had to move quickly because the tents are stacked up close to together and there was concern about the flames spreading fast.

"It is definitely a challenge out here to keep things safe and fire safety has to be a priority with these tents so close together," Fruetel said. "We were fortunate and firefighters did a good job of making sure this thing did not become a whole lot worse."

Mayor Jacob Frey was unavailable for an on-camera interview, but a spokesperson for his office did issue a statement to KSTP, reassuring people living in the tent city that their safety is paramount.


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In the statement, Frey aide, Mychal Vlatkovich, said, "Mayor Frey has been in close touch with Fire Chief John Freutel regarding this afternoon's fire. Chief Freutel has regularly visited with people living at the encampment to reinforce the importance of following proper fire safety protocols. The safety of those at and near the encampment has been, and will continue to be, the Mayor's top priority. He is actively coordinating across departments to assess needs and help ensure that those who need resources to stay safe have them."

The city recently approved construction of a new navigation center about two blocks from the encampment which will give homeless people temporary shelter and affordable housing options and is scheduled to be finished along the 2900 block of Cedar Avenue by the end of the year.

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Jay Kolls

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