Minnesota U.S. senators look for answers after deadly public housing fire

Black fire damage can be seen from a window of the high rise apartment.
Firefighters were on the scene of a high rise apartment fire at a Minneapolis Public Housing building on Cedar Avenue on Nov. 27, 2019. The 14th-floor blaze killed five and injured three others.
Christine Nguyen | MPR News file

Following the deadly fire in a Cedar-Riverside public housing high-rise, the two U.S. senators from Minnesota say they are seeking answers from the Trump administration.

Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith sent a letter to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Friday asking what steps the agency will take to upgrade public housing properties.

The letter asks Carson how the agency will go about retrofitting older public housing buildings with sprinkler systems to keep up with evolving building codes and prevent disasters.

“This is a tragic loss for not only the families of the victims of the fire, but the entire Cedar-Riverside community,” the letter reads. “Fire sprinkler systems are widely recognized as an essential element of fire safety and properly installed sprinklers on all floors of the building may have mitigated the devastation caused by this fire.”

The building, owned by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, was built in 1969 before federal legislation passed in 1992 requiring automatic sprinkler systems in new multifamily public housing properties. The Cedar High apartment building only has sprinkler systems installed on its main floor and lower mechanical rooms.

A report released by the MPHA earlier this year outlined multiple needs at the agency, including maintenance upgrades that were deferred due to insufficient funding.

The senators said the Minneapolis agency understood the high rise and other similar residences should have sprinklers. “Unfortunately, MPHA, like many public housing authorities, has limited funding available to address these deferred maintenance needs.”

The Nov. 25 fire began on the 14th floor of the 25-story building at around 4 a.m., killing five residents and injuring four. Though the cause of the fire is still unknown, an investigation by the Minneapolis Fire Department determined it was accidental.

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