Downtown North St. Paul building catches fire


Because the fire spread under the building’s siding, firefighters had to remove some of the exterior to extinguish the flames. Aundrea Kinney photos/Review

Mike Brown, the owner of Neiman’s Bar & Grill, is reminding customers to smoke out on the patio instead of on the sidewalk. Aundrea Kinney photos/Review

North St. Paul firefighters used structural firefighting foam to quickly extinguish the flames on a building in downtown North St. Paul June 27 that has residential apartments on the top floor and business space on the ground floor. Submitted photo

Discarded cigarette the apparent cause

 

On June 27 around 7:30 p.m., Craig Toquam, owner of the building at 2533 Seventh Ave. E., was working on renovations when he  noticed someone casually smoking on the sidewalk out front. 

He said this was nothing new and it didn’t bother him, but about half an hour later he was alarmed to smell smoke that couldn’t have come from a cigarette. 

When he came out the front of a vacant shop in his building, he found flames on the base of the wood gate that blocks the alley between his building and the neighboring Newman’s Bar & Grill.

Toquam said he was able to douse some of the flames with water, but by then the fire had spread to his building. Although Toquam couldn’t see fire, he saw smoke coming from the column under the siding, so he called 911.

According to fire Chief Scott Duddeck, when the North St. Paul Fire Department arrived, flames were coming out the top of the building behind the siding.

“That corner column acted like a chimney and basically drew the fire up the wall,” he explained.

Because the flames were under the aluminum siding, Duddeck said firefighters needed to take it off to extinguish the fire, and the flames ended up being put out in only a matter of minutes. 

 

Be a responsible smoker

The apparent cause of the fire: a cigarette butt.

“Unfortunately, we see fires like this frequently with discarded smoking material,” Duddeck said.

He said that over the years he has seen fires that started when someone threw a cigarette butt into a mulched garden bed, and added he’s seen smoldering fires in cavities of brick walls after cigarettes were discarded in them. 

Duddeck said fires like these can be prevented by discarding spent smokes properly — making sure they’re fully extinguished and putting them in a proper container.

“Thankfully, if there’s a good part of this, it’s that the fire occurred when it did in the early evening when there were several people out and about and in the downtown,” he said, noting that if the same incident had occurred when no one was around, it could have caused a lot more damage than it did.

“There was the potential for a great loss with all the buildings connected there in the downtown,” Duddeck added. “It could easily travel from building to building.”

“I have no problem with smoking,” Toquam said, “but be responsible.”

Toquam said he and Mike Brown, the owner of Neuman’s Bar, spoke recently about the fire and Brown agreed to remind his patrons to smoke on the bar patio instead of in front of the building. 

“I don’t know if that’s what happened, but I don’t think anyone should be throwing their cigarette butts around,” Brown said. He added that there are several ashtrays around and “people don’t like living in other people’s ashtrays.”

Toquam, a general contractor, said the incident was unfortunate, but added his renovation of the building will go forward as planned, though he’s not sure yet what to do with the building’s  damaged facade.

“I bought the property in March and I fell in love with this town,” Toquam said. “I invested a lot of money into this building since buying it, and I’m here to invest in this town.”

 

Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

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