UPDATE: Fire blamed on electrical short

by John Gessnerdougnelson.jpg and Jeff Achen
Thisweek Newspapers

An electrical short caused the Dec. 22 fire that ravaged a Burnsville apartment building and left nearly 200 people homeless, Burnsville Fire Marshal Doug Nelson said Dec. 31.

A faulty wire that led from a transformer on the first floor of the three-story complex to one of two dryers in the third-floor laundry room was to blame, Nelson said in a late-afternoon news conference.

PHOTO: Burnsville Fire Marshal Doug Nelson (right) announced the
results of the fire investigation and took questions from reporters on New
Year's Eve in front of the ravaged Burncliff Apartments building. With him was Deputy State Fire Marshal Bruce McLaughlin. Photo by John Gessner. Watch video of the news conference here . Video by Jeff Achen.

The wiring was original equipment in the building, which was built in 1969, he said. The Fire Department had inspected the building within the last two months, and it was up to code.

“We have no indication of anything specifically that precipitated this to occur,” Nelson said. “It was just wiring from 1969 that caused the fire to occur.”

The 64-unit building at 12312 Parkwood Drive is one of two buildings in the Burncliff Apartments complex. Nelson said Burnsville building inspectors have looked at the wiring in the adjacent, unharmed building, and determined there is no more hazard “than with any other building that was built in 1969 with that kind of wiring.”

The spectacular pre-Christmas fire, which tripped an alarm in the building shortly before 4 p.m. and took 140 firefighters about seven hours to control, was traced to the wall behind the second-floor laundry room, Nelson said.

Arriving firefighters were first drawn to smoke in the third-floor laundry room, but found more heat and smoke in the second-floor laundry room, Nelson said.

Fire investigators traced the short to an area on the second floor, in the wall that’s behind the washers and dryers on all three floors.

“We have it narrowed down to an area that’s approximately 18 inches wide by 3 feet high,” Nelson said.

A vent pipe that was part of the dryer system aided the fire’s rapid spread into the attic, Nelson said. Once it reached the attic, its spread was unhindered by separation walls that would be found in new construction.{mospagebreak}

Investigators had to reinforce parts of the building to allow safe access before determining the cause, Nelson said. Nine investigators — including investigators from the state fire marshal’s office and private insurance investigators — worked on the case. The cause was determined the afternoon of Dec. 31, Nelson said.

No dollar loss has been determined, and it’s unclear whether the building will be rebuilt, said Frank French, chief operating officer of the residential and commercial division of The Goodman Group, which manages Burncliff.

“We’ve got to review everything at this point in time,” French said. “We don’t know what’s next.”

What's next for residents?

French said some residents would be able to return to their apartments this week, on an appointment basis, to retrieve some of their belongings. Residents of the third-floor and units 212 and 214 on the second floor would not have access to their units.

Appointments are to begin Jan. 7 at 12:30 p.m. and continue daily from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Management said it would provide bags, boxes and gloves.

Residents are able to schedule appointments through 2 p.m. on Jan. 6 by calling (952) 890-2629.

Residents are not allowed to remove large items such as couches and other furniture. No children are allowed on the premises. Roommates and lease holders must arrive together.

French said there is one additional check for building residents of a “significant amount” from donations that have been pouring in. That’s in addition to the more than $17,000 that went to each lease holder through an anonymous donor’s $1 million gift. Residents would receive their additional check once they scheduled appointments.

John Gessner is at burnsville.thisweek@ecm-inc.com. Jeff Achen is at jeff.achen@ecm-inc.com.

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