Minneapolis fire investigators concluded that an electrical short circuit, a baseboard heater and smoking or "use of smoking materials" contributed to a fire that killed five people at the Cedar High Apartments last week.
Because the department was not able to pinpoint any one of those factors as being the sole source of the fire, it officially listed the cause as undetermined. At the same time, it described the blaze as "unintentional" and listed no human factors as contributing to the fire.
"In this case, there was a couple of different things that it could have been," Assistant Chief of Administration Bryan Tyner said Monday. When the department is unable to determine "without a shadow of a doubt" that one single thing caused the fire, it lists the cause as 'undetermined,' " he said. Tyner said the investigation will remain open, and the cause could be updated if investigators receive additional information.
Authorities identified the victims as Amatalah Adam, 79; Maryan Mohamud, 69; Nadifa Mohamud (no relation to Maryan), 67; Jerome Stuart, 59; and Tyler Scott Baron, 32. All died of smoke inhalation.
As updates on the fire came in, some in political circles continued their calls for greater fire-prevention efforts. The 25-story high-rise had partial sprinkler coverage on the main floor and lower mechanical equipment rooms but did not have sprinklers on the 14th floor, where the fire began. It was built before the fire code required sprinkler systems in high-rises, government officials have said.
Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon, chairman of the council's housing committee, said he wants to know how many other high-rises don't have sprinkler systems because of their age. He said the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, which runs the high-rise, should set a timeline and allocate funding to install sprinklers in older buildings.
"It's pretty darn clear to me … that the sprinkler system would've made a difference here," he said. "It'd really be surprising if somebody came back and said it would've made no difference in this fire."
"What a horrible tragedy," he said. "We have to learn from this and try to prevent future tragedies."
That money could potentially come from the city, Gordon said, particularly if the MPHA were to request funding for affordable-housing projects. The housing authority has in the past told the council that it has a "backlog of major repair and renovation needs," and asked the council to use a special tax levy for public housing to help bring in money.
In addition, Gordon said the city should consider advocating for statewide changes to require sprinklers in all high-rises that do not have them — and for experts to study other fire-mitigation strategies in buildings. At least one of his state-level counterparts, Rep. Mohamud Noor, DFL-Minneapolis, has said he plans to introduce legislation that would require sprinklers in each unit of public housing buildings.
Jeff Horwich, a spokesman for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, declined to comment. The fire began early Wednesday in the wall of a bedroom in Apartment 1407. An alarm company alerted the fire department to the blaze shortly before 4 a.m., and as firefighters arrived it appeared as if the fire had already been burning for some time, Fire Chief John Fruetel said last week.
On Monday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey commended the firefighters who responded.
"They walked into a wall of smoke knowing that danger was ahead and found several individuals that were dead on arrival," Frey said. "That's the kind of thing that impacts you not just for a day or a week, but our firefighters are impacted then for the rest of their lives."
The mayor went to the high-rise Sunday and met with some residents. "Obviously, there is pain, and there is grieving, and I want them to know that the city is with them 100 percent," he said.
Staff writers Paul Walsh and Miguel Otárola contributed to this report. Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994