Lighter caused Tuesday blaze; $75,000 in damages

Published 10:20 am Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Austin Fire Department responds to a fire at 1412 Sixth Ave. NW just before 8 a.m. Tuesday.  Jason Schoonover/

The Austin Fire Department responds to a fire at 1412 Sixth Ave. NW just before 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Jason Schoonover/

A Tuesday fire that destroyed one apartment unit Tuesday and displaced more than 40 residents started when someone was trying to refill a butane lighter.

The fire broke out at 1412 Sixth Ave. NW around 7:41 a.m. Tuesday and destroyed a rear apartment. Upon arrival, firefighters saw flames coming out of the back of the building. It was put out shortly after 8 a.m.

Officers later spoke to a resident at the apartment who said he was refilling a butane lighter near the couch when it exploded and started the couch on fire. He tried to put it out with a fire extinguisher and then tried to douse the fire with water, but he was unable to and then left the apartment.

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The fire caused about $75,000 in damages to the nine-unit building, according to Austin Fire Chief Jim McCoy.

Austin Police Officers worked to get other residents out of the building, including a mother and daughter who lived in the basement apartment, which later sustained heavy smoke and water damage, according to Austin Police Chief Brian Krueger.

The woman initially refused to leave because she did not speak English, but officers broke the window and got the mother and daughter out.

The fire displaced more than 40 residents, who were brought to the Austin National Guard Armory. The American Red Cross gave them lunch, clothes and found a place for them to stay.

“After disasters like home fires, Red Cross volunteers meet with those affected and provide assistance for their immediate needs, such as shelter, food, clothing and replacement medications,” Executive Director for the American Red Cross serving Southeast Minnesota Melanie Tschida said in a press release. “Volunteers also comfort and listen to those in need, helping them with long-term recovery planning and connecting them with community resources.”

Mark Bawek, who lives just down the block from the building, said he could see and smell the smoke before he heard the sirens.

“It was intense,” Bawek said. “Smoke was billowing out of the back.”