Francis Drake Hotel apartment building on fire in downtown Minneapolis  12/25/2019 16:24:08   Rochelle Olson

A four-alarm fire broke out early Wednesday morning in downtown Minneapolis Francis Drake Hotel, displacing more than 200 people from an aging apartment building that serves mostly as temporary housing for homeless people.

Three residents were taken to the hospital with unspecified injuries, Minneapolis fire officials said. Several others were treated at the scene.

The Minneapolis Fire Department responded to the call around 3 a.m. and started evacuating residents from the building near 10th Street and 5th Avenue South. The fire started on the second floor of the three-story building before spreading to the third floor and the attic, officials said.

Firefighters were forced to evacuate and fight the fire from the outside once it extended to the attic and through the roof. The building can house as many as 250 people, but authorities said it wasnt immediately clear how many were inside when the fire broke out.

David Joles
VideoVideo (01:46): A tenant who lives across the hall from where authorities are focusing firefighting efforts says she lost Christmas presents, her phone, work computer and doesn't know where she'll go after the early morning fire.

By 5 a.m. the fire had gone to four alarms. Firefighters continue to battle the blaze. Smoke was substantial, engulfing the area around the building and making it difficult to breathe. Dampness and above freezing temperatures already had enveloped much of downtown in an eerie fog.

Four Met Transit double length buses were parked nearby with residents inside curled up in blankets while someone figures out where they can go. Because the smoke was blowing so heavily, authorities evacuated one bus and sent residents to the other three.

The Red Cross is on the scene distributing blankets and coffee from Spyhouse. There was also some food available, including hot dogs, potato chips and pop. The Salvation Army also arrived handing out food and water and baby wipes.

The only word that comes to mind this morning is heartbreaking, Mayor Jacob Frey tweeted in the morning. As our firefighters work to contain the blaze, we already know several hundred lives have been changed. People will need help, and they will need it immediately.

Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley, who was on the sidewalk near the fire talking to hotel residents, said a county response team would work to find shelter for the families but it wont be easy because shelters are at our near capacity.

These are families. These are vulnerable people. This is the worst time of year, she said.

Drake is an overflow shelter where families go when People Serving People, several blocks away near U.S. Bank Stadium, is full.

Conley was disturbed by the scene. This is the second time in a month weve had fires in older buildings where poorer people live, she said in a reference to the Thanksgiving week blaze at a Minneapolis Public Housing Authority high rise in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood that left five people dead and another four injured.

Alliyah Ross and Jamal Jones, both 20, were in a room on the third floor of the eastern side of the U-shaped Drake shelter.

Both said they ignored the alarm when they first heard. They and other residents said there was a daytime test alarm last week so some thought this was another test. When the alarm kept beeping, Jones said he went to the front desk and learned it was real so he ran back up to get Ross and the baby.

We werent going to grab the baby if it wasnt a real alarm, Jones said.

Ross said some 17 children huddled with the baby in a large portable toilet near the building until the buses showed up.

The Drake Hotel mostly serves as temporary housing for homeless people as an overflow shelter by Hennepin County when primary shelters are full. Built in 1926 as a luxury hotel, it has a 146 rooms.

This is a breaking story. The Star Tribune will continue to update with developments.

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