DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — A fire broke out in the business district in downtown Detroit Lakes Friday afternoon, Sept. 10, prompting an evacuation of the entire block of businesses there. The portion of Washington Avenue directly in front of the mall was closed to traffic as firefighters and law enforcement from Detroit Lakes and Becker County arrived on the scene.
According to Detroit Lakes Fire Chief Ryan Swanson, the fire broke out in an upstairs apartment at 814 Washington Ave., above Mattson's Barbershop.
Swanson said no one was hurt in the fire, which started in upstairs apartment and spread to the roof space. The apartment fire was put out first, he added. The apartment area is not connected to the mall, but the mall suffered heavy smoke damage.
"When I got there the fire was already climbing the wall on the inside of the building and got into the roof area," Swanson said in a telephone interview shortly after 5:15 p.m., when firefighters were still at the scene.
Swanson added that firefighters gained access to the apartment and battled the flames from there as using a ladder truck to access the roof, where they proceeded to cut holes through the roofing material to obtain better access.
"The problem is, there were two or three layers of roofing, so it's taken a lot to get to it (the fire)," he added.
Once that roofing was penetrated, the smoke got really heavy, really fast, said Amanda Jenzen, who works at Manna Food Co-op downtown. The fire happened on the other side of Washington Avenue.
"There wasn't much smoke right away," she said, but firefighters went after the fire through the front door and through the roof, and "it took off really fast," she said. Thick smoke filled most of the downtown area until shortly after 5 p.m., when it had largely subsided.
Firefighters high up on ladder trucks kept up a steady stream from hoses down onto the roofs below.
The Washington Square Mall is a mix of older buildings on Washington Avenue and new construction further back. The fire started in one of those older downtown buildings.
Eventually, firefighters “busted a window open,” and entered an apartment above the barbershop, and the smoke subsided shortly after that, Jenzen said.
Katie Poppler watched firefighters battle the blaze from her apartment across the street in Norby Flats.
The smoke at times was so thick you couldn’t see across the street, but most of it blew away from Norby Flats, and wasn’t a problem for Poppler.
“The firefighters did great,” she said. “They called in some help and got it under control.”
Swanson said firefighters from Audubon, Callaway, Frazee, Perham and Vergas were called in to assist his department at the scene; law enforcement officers from Detroit Lakes and Becker County helped to control traffic around the building.
Swanson said the whole block was evacuated, and firefighters were using fans to try to minimize the smoke damage. The cause of the fire is under investigation, he said.