Fire that killed 6 in Minnesota started by candles

Published 10:19 am Monday, July 25, 2011

NEW ULM, Minn. (AP) — Burning candles left unattended caused a fire that killed six people at a southern Minnesota inn, investigators said Monday.

The fire at the Bohemian bed and breakfast in New Ulm on July 2 was ruled accidental, the New Ulm Fire Department said.

The inn’s owner, Roberta McCrea, 48, her two daughters, Abby Gayle Wood, 15, and Savannah Grace McCrea, 3, were killed in the fire. Three guests also died in the fire, including Andrew Uhing, 67, of Hartington, Neb., Dian Lee Bergman, 59, and her husband, Joseph Bergman, 62, both of Centuria, Wis. Four others, including Uhing’s wife, Sandy, escaped the fire.

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A state fire marshal’s report said the fire in the 2½-story Victorian-era house broke out shortly before 2 a.m. and began in the northeastern corner of a three-season porch where investigators found the remains of a large candelabra.

Firefighters found McCrea’s body on the first floor near the kitchen and dining room, according to the report. The other victims were found on the second floor of the bed and breakfast.

Roberta McCrea’s fiance and the father of Savannah McCrea, Charles Zangl, told investigators there were candles lit during dinner on the porch that night and he couldn’t recall if anyone extinguished them. Zangl said he fell asleep on a couch in the TV room and awoke to man yelling that the house was on fire. He attempted to go up the stairs near the kitchen, but was driven back by heavy smoke. Zangl said he called for his fiancée, but didn’t get an answer.

Three survivors told investigators they heard smoke detectors had activated the night of the fire. Investigators estimated the cost of fire damage at $900,000.

The fire was investigated by the New Ulm Fire Department, the State Fire Marshal Division and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.