Oven suspected source of house fire in north Minneapolis, 3 children killed

Scene of fatal fire
Three children were killed in a fire at this home at 2755 Penn Ave. N. in Minneapolis Oct. 3, 2015.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Updated 2:17 p.m. | Posted 10:30 a.m.

Three children, all thought to be younger than 7 years old, have died in a north Minneapolis house fire that may have started with an unattended oven.

"The heart of Minneapolis aches this morning for the loss of these three children."

Firefighters were called to 2755 Penn Ave. N. just before midnight Saturday, and Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said that the fire had already gotten so big that rescuers could even see the glow of the blaze from up the street as they approached.

Firefighters rushed into the home to look for occupants: they found two children dead and rescued another, who died later at a nearby hospital. He said their mother was home, but was not hurt.

"The heart of Minneapolis aches this morning for the loss of these three children," said Mayor Betsy Hodges, in a Sunday morning appearance at City Hall. "Our hearts and our thoughts and our prayers go out to the family."

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Fruetel said firefighters did everything they could to save the victims, three children of the woman who had reportedly just moved into the home there. He said there was a large amount of fire damage on the first floor. There were two children found on the first floor and another found upstairs.

Minneapolis officials discuss fatal fire
Minneapolis Fire Department Battalion Chief Bryan Tyner, Chief John Fruetel and Mayor Betsy Hodges talked Sunday about an overnight fire that killed three children, all thought to be 7 years old or younger. Tim Nelson | MPR News
Tim Nelson | MPR News

"When you have those kinds of fires like that, that are heavily involved in the interior of the structure, the visibility is virtually zero," Fruetel said at a City Hall press conference. "I heard them on the radio reporting very high heat, very extreme conditions. They pushed the envelope to the limit, conducting those primary searches."

Fruetel said that fire investigators believed the fire started in the kitchen, and that the oven door was reportedly open Saturday night. "When you use the oven, they aren't vented properly. They are not a heating appliance like a furnace. They are used for cooking, not heating."

The fire chief said the home was last inspected in January and there were no violations reported, and an inspector found and there were working smoke detectors at that time. Fruetel said there did appear to be smoke detectors in the home, although firefighters didn't hear them sounding when they arrived — which rescuers often do hear when they arrive at home fires.

It wasn't clear why the family that lived in the home may have been using their oven as a heat source, although National Weather Service observations reported temperatures in Minneapolis had dipped into the upper 40's by midnight Saturday.

"I have no idea," Fruetel said, when asked why the home's heat may not have been working. He urged residents to seek help with their heat if their furnaces aren't functioning, rather than turning to makeshift or temporary heat sources.

The fire follows a February 2014 blaze that killed five children, also in north Minneapolis, suspected to have been started by a space heater.