Minneapolis fire investigators say arson is most likely the cause of the raging blaze that displaced more than 21 residents and several businesses and changed the landscape of West Broadway Avenue.
The early-morning fire of April 15 burned for hours and gutted businesses and apartment homes from 905 through 916 West Broadway Ave. The blaze that began at the Unbank at 913 W. Broadway burned quickly and spread to several neighboring businesses and residences. Fire investigator Sean McKenna of the Minneapolis Police Department said samples taken from the point of origin from the fire were tested and confirmed to have contained a fire accelerant.
“There is now the distinct possibility of an intentionally set fire,” said McKenna, who stopped short of saying the fire was definitively arson, but called on the public to come forward with any information regarding who may have set the blaze and why.
The who and the why is the great mystery surrounding the fire. Housed at the location was Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) – located at 911 W. Broadway Ave. – and given the nature of NOC’s work, some have speculated the group was the target of the fire.
“There have always been people throughout time who have been interested in sabotaging groups like NOC, but it’s a mystery as to if we were targeted,” said Anthony Newby, executive director of NOC. NOC is a grassroots organization focusing on racial injustice and workers’ rights. “We want to know who did this. We deserve closure. There are people who are still homeless because of this. There are people who lost everything. Somebody could have been killed. There were young children who could have been hurt or worse, so we want to know who’s responsible for this.”
The initial findings of the investigation were announced during a July 28 press conference at the site of the blaze.
One of the residents, Terrence Cargill, said he suspected arson from the very beginning.
“I always felt something was funny on how that fire got started and how it quickly spread,” said Cargill, who lived at 913 W. Broadway Ave. “I lost everything but my life.”
David Grady who ran Digital City – a record shop and concert ticket outlet – and who along with his family owned the building at 905-907 W. Broadway Ave., said the fire destroyed his business, but more importantly endangered the lives of people close to him.
“We had tenants upstairs and they were also friends of the family and they had small children; so it was disheartening to know that they were so close to being harmed by that fire,” said Grady. “I mean the loss of the business is serious but the fact that people came so close to losing their lives is what really concerns us the most.”
Newby said while NOC has a new office not far from the former location, it hopes to return to its previous home once any redevelopment occurs.
“We have interest in getting back on that block,” said Newby. “That was our home and we have a long-term interest in that block.”
Officials with the Minneapolis Fire Department and Minneapolis Police Department are urging the public to come forward with any information regarding who may have set the blaze. Citizens are urged to call the city’s arson hotline at (800) 723-2020 with any information regarding the fire.