Boxes of matches and jars of gasoline spook Minneapolis residents

A pile of wood doused with gasoline or mineral spirits
A pile of wood doused with gasoline or mineral spirits found by a utility pole in south Minneapolis. A week after George Floyd was killed, and after days of protests, property destruction and arson, even normally inconspicuous household items are sparking fear when residents encounter them.
Courtesy of Matt Gladue

A dry box of 250 kitchen matches stashed in a south Minneapolis alley; a gas mask found in a trash can in northeast Minneapolis; a salad dressing jar filled with gasoline — those are among the items that residents of Minneapolis and St. Paul have found around their homes. 

Law enforcement officials have asked Minneapolis residents to be on the lookout for incendiary items, like water bottles filled with gasoline, that have been stashed in bushes or alleys, sometimes even far from where protests have taken place. 

A week after George Floyd was killed, and after days of protests, property destruction and arson, even normally inconspicuous household items are sparking fear when residents encounter them. 

Social media in the Twin Cities has been full of unconfirmed reports of these items, some of which have turned out to be false. But other rumors that alarmed residents have turned out to be true.

Just after curfew started Sunday, Matt Gladue did a sweep through his alley, just a few blocks from where a Walgreens Pharmacy had recently been burned. His wife hadn’t seen anything when she walked through a couple hours earlier. But now, Gladue saw a pile of boards neatly placed next to a utility pole.

“They just reeked of gas,” Gladue said, although he acknowledged it could have been mineral spirits, too. 

It was about noon on Saturday in northeast Minneapolis that Catrina Mairose was pulling her garbage cans into her yard. In one of the cans, they found something. 

Gas mask found in a trash can in northeast Minneapolis.
A gas mask found in a trash can in northeast Minneapolis.
Courtesy of Catrina Mairose

“We found a gas mask that looks pretty tactical and looks official,” she said. “It was a bit alarming because obviously it’s not something you typically find in a garbage can in northeast Minneapolis, or anywhere for that matter.” 

Minneapolis police say there haven’t been credible threats to residences. But residents are still on edge after days of burning buildings mostly on the city’s south side followed by days of curfew.  

Brigitte Hanson looked out her house in north Minneapolison Friday at about midnight and saw some items including what looked like fabric on fire in the middle of her street. Two men got out of an SUV and dumped gallons of water on it. She thanked them, and they told her, “‘This is our community too, we’re all in this together.’”

“It was very alarming to have it happen because it just felt so strategic and there was not a soul around, which made it really eerie,” she said.  

She didn’t report the fire because she figured authorities were busy fighting other fires breaking out around the city.  

”But I struggled with feelings of guilt about it,” she said. “Because I thought, here I am, upset about this little fire in my residential neighborhood on my street when the south side is burning.”

These items and others found by residents, who agreed to be interviewed and provided photos to MPR News, also include possibly more innocuous items. Joe Slag was walking in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood when he saw a bucket containing a tiny American flag, starter fluid and a container of rags. 

“You could certainly imagine that someone would take the rag out, spray the starter fluid on the rag, and they’ve got a firestarter right there,” he said. 

He called 911 and was told an officer would be sent to inspect it. He admitted that it could be supplies someone kept in their vehicle. 

A box of kitchen matches.
A box of kitchen matches.
Courtesy photo

“I could imagine someone being, ‘Oh no, this is just for my car,” Slag said. “Coincidences happen, but it is really weird considering the circumstances.” 

Shortly after curfew on Sunday, Aliina Adelman was checking the alley near her neighbor’s house in south Minneapolis when she saw a dry box of matches, which her neighbors later told her didn’t look familiar. It was only alarming to her because commercial buildings had burned for days in the area around Lake Street, sometimes far from any protest.

“I would be totally dismissive at any other point in my life,” Adelman said. “It’s unsettling to be in that state of paranoia.”

Minneapolis police have asked people to search their properties for potentially harmful objects, and said that people who find incendiaries or accelerants should call 911, although there are no credible threats against residences.  

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