Four-alarm blaze at Minneapolis’ Drake Hotel forces more than 200 low-income residents to evacuate

Posted at 6:52 PM, Dec 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-25 20:52:38-05

(CNN) — More than 200 people were evacuated from a low-income residential hotel after a fire broke out early Christmas morning and quickly grew to four alarms, Minneapolis fire officials said.

The Francis Drake Hotel caught fire about 3 a.m. (4 a.m. ET) Wednesday, Minneapolis Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Tyner said. Crews were still fighting the fire mid-afternoon, officials said.

Temperatures in Minneapolis dipped into the 30s on this damp, foggy morning, and Metro Transit, the city’s public transport operator, was working to find temporary shelter for those displaced. The Red Cross was providing food and drinks to residents, Tyner said.

“We have a total of five buses helping to house residents and firefighters in order to help keep them warm,” Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla said. “We’re glad to do this small part to help the communities we serve in their time of need.”

The Red Cross said it was making arrangements for getting victims places to stay overnight. It said people who wanted to help could donate money using or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Officials are trying to work on a longer-term housing plan for the displaced, Tyner said.

“This is a tragic situation. Given the time of the morning that this happened, we are very fortunate that everyone was able to escape this fire,” the assistant chief told CNN.

Fire officials tweeted appreciation for an outpouring of support to help those affected.

Angela Conley, a Hennepin County commissioner, thanked all those in the community and government who stepped up for the displaced. She said those affected by the fire “are in a warm shelter with many of the generous donations provided.”

The fire seemed to be out, then roared again

Three people with minor injuries were taken to the hospital. One person had suffered smoke inhalation, and two others suffered minor injuries when they evacuated the building.

Several people who suffered smoke inhalation were treated at the scene, CNN affiliate WCCO reported.

“Right now, I’m feeling very lucky,” Fire Chief John Fruetel told the station, referring to the limited injuries.

A series of Minneapolis Fire Department tweets documents how firefighters thought they’d snuffed out the fire, only to see it flare again and intensify, forcing them out of the building to fight the blaze from the outside.

A tweet around 3:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m. ET) said four hotel rooms had caught fire on the second story of the three-story hotel. Rescuers were searching the building and the evacuation was near completion.

Shortly thereafter, the department reported most of the blaze had been “knocked down” and rescuers had finished searching the building.

Around 3:50 a.m., crews on the third floor reported that the fire had spread to the hotel’s attic and then to the third floor. Crews themselves evacuated the building about 30 minutes later, “switching to an exterior defensive attack,” the department tweeted.

By 5:16 a.m., the fire was upgraded to four alarms.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, Tyner said. It’s unlikely the entire building can be salvaged, he said.

Built in 1926 as a luxury hotel, the Drake Hotel now serves as temporary housing for the homeless and as an overflow shelter when other shelters are full, the Star Tribune newspaper reported. It has 146 rooms.