Minn. firefighters battle house blaze in brutal cold

Individual firefighters fought the fire for five to 10 minutes at a time, and then went onto a waiting bus to warm themselves up before heading back out

By Mara Gottfried
Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — St. Paul firefighters battled a blaze in dangerously cold temperatures on Wednesday morning.

Firefighters were called to the house fire in the North End shortly after 4:15 a.m. No injuries were reported.

The air temperature was 27 degrees below zero Wednesday morning, with windchills at 52 degrees below zero.

At one point, the fire department had 40 to 50 firefighters at the house at Hatch Avenue and Park Street -- three times the normal number of firefighters for such a situation -- because of the cold, said Assistant Fire Chief Mike Gaede.

"The extreme conditions made it a difficult, difficult fire to fight," he said.

Firefighters battled the fire for three-and-a-half hours, Gaede said.

Individual firefighters fought the fire for five to 10 minutes at a time, and then went onto a waiting Metro Transit bus to warm up themselves and their gear for 20 minutes before heading back out, Gaede said.

There were also hose lines and hydrants freezing up. A ladder truck was disabled by the cold and had to be towed away.

The fire apparently started in the basement and the house is a total loss, according to the fire department. The cause is under investigation.

The family "basically lost everything," said neighbor Miranda Meyer. She said three adults, four juveniles and a dog had to rush to safety. Their cat was unaccounted for as of Wednesday morning.


Fire crews remained at the scene into the day on Wednesday to ensure no hot spots flare up, Gaede said.

Community members were thinking about the firefighters working in the harsh conditions.

"God bless our first responders out in this cold," Mikey van Leeuwen, who lives on the block, wrote about the fire.

Firefighters initially had the affected family in a department vehicle to stay out of the cold. They moved people to a fire station and notified the Red Cross for assistance.

"You can imagine it was 4:30 in the morning -- they were in bed, they didn't have coats and shoes," Gaede said.

Firefighters were concerned the blaze would spread to a house next door and they evacuated those residents, though they were able to return home.

Red Cross volunteers joined the response by helping two families -- four adults and four children -- with immediate needs, including housing, blankets and support, the organization reported.

Meyer said she will be establishing a GoFundMe to assist the family.

Donations of clothing or gift cards can be dropped off at Born's Bar, Hoovers Pub or Tin Cup's; people should tell bartenders they are for the Matteson family fire fund, Meyer said. Tin Cup's is closed Wednesday because of the frigid temperatures.

Copyright 2019 Pioneer Press



McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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