Firefighters battle overnight fire in downtown Winona

Crews battle apartment fire for several hours

Firefighters battled a downtown Winona fire for several hours early Friday morning.

The Winona Fire Department received the call of an apartment fire on the 100 block of East 3rd Street above the Mason Jar bar at about 12:30 a.m. Winona Fire Chief Curt Bittle told News 8 that upon entering the building, firefighters found heavy smoke and fire throughout the second floor.

“The guys made entry and they proceeded with an interior attack that lasted about 20 minutes and were unable to make headway with the fire. (They) exited the building and we began an exterior attack on it,” Bittle said.

The fire department used three ladder trucks to put out the fire. Two of those were still on scene nearly all day Friday.

There was no one injured, but the building’s roof was almost entirely destroyed. Many of the apartments and the bar were called a total loss. The Red Cross is helping those who were displaced by the fire.

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Sharon Katula had just gotten off work and was driving home down 3rd Street in downtown Winona when she says suddenly it was hard to see.

“Oh about three blocks away I could see the smoke and when I got up closer I could hardly breathe it was just so thick, in fact, it was even difficult to see in this probably two-to-three block area,” Katula said.

Katula saw the fire from the outside a safe distance away. Desiree Mueller saw it all from a different angle.

“I woke up to the fire alarms at about 12:30 and people running down our side door steps and so I went to check the hall and see what was going on and all I saw was haze coming from the front of the building,” Mueller said.

Mueller says she quickly ran into her room for a jacket and shoes and when she came back out the smoke was even thicker.

“A police officer came through and one of my old classmates ran through the apartment complex and made sure everybody got out safe too and then we kind of just stood and watched,” Mueller said.

Mueller says watching from across the street was tough.

“Kind of sad, I’ve got no home now, I’ve got to find another place,” Mueller said.

Mueller’s apartment is on the backside of the building, and she believes the fire was contained to the front of the building. She says she is crossing her fingers her home is just cold and not destroyed.

“We don’t know the damage yet so we don’t know what we have, what we don’t have, what we’ve got to replace yet,” she said. “I hope we can get some stuff. I mean there’s not much hope for the (pet) rodents I had in there.”

Chief Bittle said there was some concern about the fire spreading east to adjacent buildings, but it was contained to the building where it originally started.

“We lucked out pretty well, the fire wall’s holding up, so we didn’t have any extension to the east side of the block,” said Bittle.

Temperatures were between 10 and 15 degrees as firefighters battled the flames.

Streets in the surrounding area were closed as crews continued to fight the fire and monitor hotspots.

This is the third fire in the same area of downtown Winona in the past year and a half. KidSport Gymnastics on 5th and Center streets was destroyed in a fire on Sept. 4, 2014. On Sept. 13, 2013, a fire that started at the Islamic Center on 2nd and Center streets destroyed three buildings and displaced 20 people.

“First of all buildings, 140-150 years old — a lot of those buildings have been renovated time and time and time again on top of a renovation, so it makes fighting the fires extremely difficult as far as the viewpoint from a firefighter,” Bittle said.

Firefighters battle overnight fire in downtown Winona