Students left homeless after fire get help from Winona State, Red Cross

The Red Cross and Winona State University are teaming up to try to help people that don’t have a place to stay after a fire at apartment buildings where they lived.

Winona State student Brock Norwood said he woke up early Friday morning to a smoke-filled apartment.

“I woke up around 1:15, 1:30 in the morning. I smelled smoke,” said Norwood.

Norwood acted fast.

“I grabbed my keys and my girlfriend, that’s about it,” said Norwood.


But he didn’t stop there. Before leaving his apartment in downtown Winona, he made sure his neighbors were also awake.

“About five minutes after, when we were in the hallway, the fire alarm went off, but at that point, we had already knocked on people’s doors and tried to let them know what was going on,” said Norwood. “Then 30 minutes later, the building behind us went up in flames, and then it was ablaze for four to five hours until now. It’s kind of surreal. You hear about fires, but you never think it will happen to you.”

He’s one of many Winona State students whose apartment was either damaged or destroyed by the early morning fire in downtown Winona. So is Jessica Dunn.

Dunn came home early in the morning after work and couldn’t believe her eyes.

“I was in shock,” said Dunn. “I came home at 2:30 a.m. to see fire trucks around. There were flames at the back of our building; the gray building was engulfed in flames. I freaked out.”

Dunn slept over at her manager’s house and is trying to figure out how to move forward.

Dunn said she has plenty of offers for places to stay.

“A lot of friends making sure I’m OK, first off, and then letting me know I can stay with them,” said Dunn.

Others are looking to Winona State University for a new home.

“We’ll work with them as long as need be. If they want to become permanent residents, we’d be happy to have them. If they want to stay temporarily until they can find other accommodations, we’ll work with them and try to meet their needs the best we can,” said Winona State University Director of Residence Life Paula Scheevel.

Scheevel said the Red Cross contacted her at 5 o’clock Friday morning letting her know there were likely going to be students needing a place to live because of the fire. Scheevel said some lost everything.

“One of the students who showed up didn’t have any shoes. So they don’t have their ID cards, in some cases don’t have their cellphones, their laptops are gone, school assignments, books, every speck of clothing that they own, they’re just devastated, some of them are completely wiped out,” said Scheevel.

The Red Cross is also working to help people like Dunn.

“I talked to the Red Cross. They’re going to give me a little bit of money so I can at least get out of my uniform and buy some clothes and shampoo and conditioner, that kind of stuff, because I don’t have any of that stuff right now,” said Dunn.

Norwood said a firefighter went and grabbed his laptop, backpack, and wallet later in the morning, but he says the most important thing is everyone is safe.

“There’s nothing that can’t be replaced, and we’re fine, so that’s all that matters,” said Norwood.

Some of the students said they don’t have renters insurance. They said the Red Cross told them to check with their parents and see if they’re still covered under their insurance.

Winona State University staff said they’ve housed 10 students already. They said about 20 students were impacted by the fire.