Agency cited sprinkler need months before high-rise fire

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© 2019 Aaron Lavinsky /Star Tribune

Minneapolis Fire Department Chief John Fruetel speaks to the media in front of the building at 630 Cedar Avenue where an early morning fire killed multiple people Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019 in Minneapolis. Residents of the high rise were evacuated early Wednesday after a fire broke out on the 14th floor of the building. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – The agency that manages public housing in Minneapolis noted a need for sprinklers in older high-rise apartments months before a massive fire broke out in a 50-year-old building, leaving five people dead from smoke inhalation.

Although the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority didn’t specifically budget for high-rise sprinklers in a plan approved in September, the document does list them as a future priority.

“Additionally, as building codes have evolved, we need to address increased life/safety requirements such as retrofitting our highrise buildings with sprinkler systems,” the plan says. “MPHA has made infrastructure/building systems a priority and will target these types of improvements with its limited Capital Fund resources until major reinvestment opportunities materialize.”

Minneapolis Public Housing Authority spokesman Jeff Horwich declined to elaborate Friday on the reference to sprinklers in the plan. He said the document reflects long-term aspirations, not necessarily current available funding.

The fire Wednesday came just days before the building was to be inspected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It was not immediately clear if that routine inspection will go on Monday as planned.

Authorities on Friday still had not released the cause of the fire, which started around 4 a.m. on the 14th floor of the building in the heart of an immigrant neighborhood. Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel told reporters Wednesday that investigators believe the fire was an accident, but he didn’t explain why.

The victims have been identified as Tyler Baron, 32; Jerome Stewart, 59; Nadifa Mohamud, 67; Maryan Mohamed Mohamud, 69; and Amatalah Adam, 78. Three others were injured.

According to the city, the main floor and lower mechanical rooms of the 25-floor building known as Cedar High Apartments had partial sprinkler coverage, but the rest of the building did not have a sprinkler system.