Firefighters declare downtown Winona blaze contained

Published 11:12 am Friday, September 13, 2013

WINONA — Firefighters contained a large blaze that burned several buildings housing businesses, apartments and a mosque in downtown Winona on Friday, Fire Chief Curt Bittle said.

Crews were still hosing down the buildings and began demolishing some of the storefronts at midmorning to try to extinguish debris that was still burning.

The fire broke out about 2 a.m. The fire chief said it may have started in the Winona Islamic Center, though that had not been confirmed. The state fire marshal will investigate, he said.

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There were no reports of injuries, but around a dozen people were displaced from apartments in the affected buildings. The Red Cross was assisting them.

Ahmed El-Afandi, who began the Islamic Center and is a retired political science professor at Winona State University, said the building is “pretty much gone.” He said fire officials didn’t immediately know whether the fire was accidental or arson.

“Nobody (in the community) has given us any trouble,” he told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.

Buildings that house the Brosnahan Law Firm, Sole Sport, Blooming Grounds and Integrative Health also were among those heavily damaged.

Brosnahan said his building was a total loss, “but fortunately, our business records are all backed up electronically off-site.”

The fire “got into an attic, and it was jumping from building to building,” he said, relaying information he received from fire officials. “I had an apartment with three young (Winona State University) sophomores. Fortunately, all three young girls are safe.”

Jake Lindberg, who also lived above the law office, said all of his belongings were inside.

“I like some of the things I have,” he said, as he stopped to stare at a rushing river of sooty water pouring from the building’s front entrance. “But I like life more.”