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Fire burns tents at Minneapolis homeless camp; 1 treated

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The middle of the homeless encampment
The middle of the homeless encampment on Hiawatha Avenue in south Minneapolis was closed down following a fire Monday.
Max Nesterak | MPR News

Updated 5:25 p.m. | Posted 3:40 p.m.

Multiple tents caught fire Monday at a Minneapolis homeless encampment but the fire department said much of the fire was extinguished quickly. One person was treated for smoke inhalation.

Fire Chief John Fruetel said about eight to 10 tents were destroyed. While he said the fire's cause was under investigation, he pleaded with people to not have open flames in tents.

"They found out today these tents burn very quickly," Fruetel told reporters, adding that he's long been concerned about the potential for disaster at the camp. 

"The city's offered up shelter for these folks," he said. "I wish they would take it."

Hundreds of mostly Native American people have been camped out for months along Hiawatha Avenue in south Minneapolis as officials and advocates look for ways to help people there cope with the onset of winter. 

Angela Senogles-Bowen, a Leech Lake tribal member who's lived at the camp for several months, said people at the camp fought one fire in an unoccupied tent with extinguishers and bottled water until the fire department arrived.

She said she saw "tents starting to go up" and grabbed a fire extinguisher.

"I saw the other guys went running over there to start pulling stuff away from the tents. And somebody else came out with another fire extinguisher," she said. "So, we used the two fire extinguishers to get the flames controlled all around the tent."

Volunteer Renee Avery hugs camp resident Kat Yanez.
"I came to save you!" volunteer Renee Avery says to camp resident Kat Yanez after a fire burned multiple tents at a homeless encampment in Minneapolis on Monday. Avery is letting Yanez, who has been living at the camp since May, keep her things in her garage.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Jenny Bjorgo, the camp outreach coordinator for Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center, said she heard loud pops apparently from an exploding propane canister. She saw the fire and people running and started knocking on other tent "to make sure everybody got out ... because I feared that it was just going to go."

The city recently agreed to spend $1.5 million to build an emergency shelter on property nearby owned by the Red Lake Nation. Officials hope to have it ready by early December to house about 150 people through winter. 

Last week, several tents heated by stoves were erected to give people at the camp a place to warm up.