House fire strands students

The fire caused no injuries and was extinguished in less than an hour.

Bryce Haugen

An apparent electrical fire early Saturday in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood left about 20 University students temporarily homeless.

The house fire, on the 1300 block of 7th Street Southeast, destroyed a bedroom and inflicted extensive smoke damage, but residents escaped without injuries.

“Looks like everything in that room caught on fire,” said a Minneapolis arson investigator, standing outside next to the remains of a mattress and peering into the devastated former bedroom.

Fire crews responded to the blaze just after 12:20 a.m. A fireman declared it extinguished at 1:18 a.m.

At the scene, Minneapolis District Fire Chief David Walburg said the fire’s cause was unknown. The next day, resident Meghan Whelihan, an ecology, evolution and behavior senior, said it was sparked by an overloaded power outlet. Officials said a fire department report won’t be issued until today.

The fire, Whelihan said, spread quickly, fueled by clothing strewn across the bedroom floor. After she noticed smoke coming from her closet, Whelihan and a couple housemates tried to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher, she said.

When that failed, they grabbed a few necessities – hats, gloves, coats and computers – and evacuated.

“We’re just lucky it didn’t happen later when people were asleep,” Whelihan said. “We’re lucky no one died or was seriously injured.”

Throughout Saturday night, dismayed tenants returned to check the damage and to retrieve belongings, once fire crews said the house was safe to enter.

Resident Max Mose, an English junior whose bedroom is above where the fire started, shook his head in disbelief as he braved wind chills in the minus 20s.

“I hope the floor is safe to walk on,” he said. “I’m glad it’s not my room.”

American Red Cross on-call dispatcher Peter Rau said the organization offered its standard emergency services, but residents found other accommodations. A Metro Transit bus strayed from its standard line and ferried some of them to their destinations free of charge.

The tenant whose bedroom burned was not home at the time and declined to comment for this story.

The co-owner of the property, Tim Harmsen of Dinkytown Rentals, said he is working hard to get residents back in the house, which should happen in the next couple of days.

He said that there has never been a fire in any of his properties in the 20-year history of the company.

When Harmsen heard about the fire early Saturday, he said, “I got down on my knees and prayed to the Lord that everybody was OK.”

Whelihan praised her landlords, who brought food to the house Saturday and quickly started to clean the property.

But another resident, art junior Matt Sairio said he plans to move out, probably permanently.

“The air quality is pretty bad,” he said. “Everything just really stinks in here.”