Minneapolis 'war zone': FFs respond to 30 arson fire incidents amid protests

Fire apparatus damaged by rocks and other projectiles thrown by protesters; police sent to assist fire crews


Andy Rathbun
Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis fire crews have responded to about 30 fire incidents, including at least 16 structure fires, since Wednesday night during the protests over the death of George Floyd, the fire department said Thursday morning.

The fires were intentionally set, according to the department. Crews were continuing to respond to and extinguish fires along Lake Street East on Thursday morning.

St. Paul police had sent about 40 police officers to support Minneapolis firefighters.

There were rocks and other projectiles thrown at the fire rigs, which damaged them, but no firefighter or other injuries have been reported from the fires.

SECOND NIGHT OF PROTESTS TURN VIOLENT

Violent protests over the death of Floyd in police custody rocked a Minneapolis neighborhood for a second straight night as angry crowds looted stores, set fires and left a path of damage that stretched for miles.

A man was found shot last night at Bloomington Avenue and Lake Street, about a mile west of the police department’s third precinct, where protests have been centered. He died at the hospital.

Metro Transit has suspended Blue Line service, saying in a tweet that it was due “to the riotous behavior and out of a precaution for riders and our employees.”

BUSINESS OWNERS PROTECT STORES FROM LOOTERS

On Thursday at about 6:30 a.m., armed with a handgun and AR-15 rifle, Tory Bremer stood beside friend Matthew Lerner outside East Lake Liquor Store to survey the damage to the store that Lerner owns.

The glass front door had been smashed and metal gate cut through the night before. Lerner had yet to account for what had been stolen.

“I was surprised it made it this far down (Lake Street),” said Lerner, whose store is about a mile east from the city’s third precinct.

After Bremer heard of the damage to his friend’s store, he and several others headed over there at about 1:30 a.m. to protect the business from further looting.

“Over the course of four hours, we probably chased 30 to 40 people away,” Bremer said. “You start walking at someone with and AR-15 and they immediately turn around.”

IT LOOKS LIKE A BOMB WENT OFF

Bremer, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1995, was shocked by the scene on Lake Street Thursday morning. At the nearby Target parking lot, it “looks like a bomb went off,” he said.

“This is by far the craziest thing I have literally seen in my entire life, let alone in my neighborhood,” he said.

Further west down Lake Street, dozens of business had been vandalized with graffiti and had windows smashed. Security alarms still sounded at about 7 a.m. and people were still taking items from stores. Firefighters continued to work to put out fires and smoke filled the air as onlookers surveyed the damage.

At Town Talk Diner, sprinklers continued to drop water on tables and chairs in the dining area. The floors were filled with water and littered with liquor bottles and broken glass.

“They looted all the booze,” said co-owner Charles Stotts, carefully walking into the building.

He said the restaurant had been open Wednesday night doing take-out service when people told them to close down and leave the area. He described the scene on Lake Street as like a “war zone.”

“We have our whole lives tied into this restaurant,” he said with his hands on his head as he and his wife watched the water pour into the street.

Mary Wattley is the director of transportation and family liaison at Minnesota Transitions Charter School near Hiawatha Avenue and East Lake Street next door to the Target store hit by looters Wednesday night.

Wattley said 300 students from seventh to twelfth grade attended school at the site. Due to rioting and looting the facility has been all but destroyed and flooded.

Meanwhile, residents of Hiawatha Commons nearby, said Thursday that they did what they could overnoght to protect their building and calm down rioters.

“Is this safe? It’s totally unsafe. There’s no police. There’s no rules or regulations,” said Abdikafi Mohamud. “There’s a lot of kids here, a lot of older people.”

Kiumars Ehtiatkar said 14 cars were stolen from his seven-year-old business, A Auto Mall, and the store window and glass from the front door were smashed overnight.

“They smashed and broke all the windows, everything,” he said, adding that he thinks police should have done more to protect the area from rioting and looters.

Outside the GM Tobacco store Thursay morning looters were still taking products. They tried to break open the store’s ATM machine and passed around items from inside the store.

“It’s a free-for-all. This isn’t protesting,” said former area resident Steve Edwards. “It’s the worst destruction I’ve ever seen.”

Mara H. Gottfried, Frederick Melo and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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©2020 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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