Firefighters battling downtown Winona blaze

  • -3 buildings a total loss in Friday's blaze that damaged several businesses, apartments and a mosque in an older part of downtown Winona
    -No injuries reported
    -Winona fire chief: Fire apparently began in the Winona Islamic Center several hours before it was reported around 2 a.m.
    - Ahmed El-Afandi, a retired political science professor at Winona State University who founded the Islamic Center, said there had been no threats against the mosque
    -State fire marshal to arrive on scene this morning
    -Origin of fire unknown, investigators searching for source
    -16 people displaced from apartments
    -Many downtown streets are closed
    - Buildings that house Brosnahan Law Firm, Sole Sport and Integrative Health among those heavily damaged by fire
    -Photo gallery of the Winona fire

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    by Michael Olson, MPR News edited by Jon Gordon, MPR News 9/13/2013 4:53:57 PM
  • Winona Police Chief Paul Bostrack said officials don't yet know where the fire originated and haven't found any evidence of arson. "We'll be looking into it. At this point we have nothing that indicates that," he said.

    Winona Fire Chief Curt Bittle said when crews arrived the fire had already been burning for hours and the blaze was most active at the Islamic Center of Winona, where the building's roof had collapsed. The fire was spreading to the east, he said.

    "Our major concern was losing the block. The fire was spreading and jumping from cockloft to cockloft," Bittle said.

    He said it was challenging to fight the fire in buildings that are more than 100 years old. Three buildings were destroyed, including a historic former bank building that had a concrete roof. A few other buildings have smoke and water damage, Bittle said.

    Bittle said it was one of the largest fires he could recall in the city in his 21 years on the job. "I believe this is the first time we've had four aerial devices running in the city of Winona. It was quite a large fire," he said.

    Winona Mayor Mark Peterson, who is also director of the Winona County Historical Society, said it was sad to lose historic buildings. But he said he's proud of all of those involved in containing the fire.

    "As sad as this is today, it's great that nobody was hurt," he said. "We're going to do what we can to get this cleaned up. It could have been a lot worse than it was."
    by Elizabeth Dunbar, MPR News edited by Jon Gordon, MPR News 9/13/2013 4:14:09 PM
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