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14 Minn. dwellers injured in blaze

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 8:18 p.m.

MINNEAPOLIS — A billowing fire early on Wednesday engulfed a three-story building with several apartments near downtown Minneapolis, sending more than a dozen people to hospitals with injuries — some critical — ranging from burns to trauma associated with falls.

An explosion was reported about 8:15 a.m. Within minutes, a fire raged through the building, said Robert Ball, a spokesman for Hennepin County Emergency Medical Services. Paramedics, amid subzero temperatures, responded to find victims on the ground, some with injuries that suggested they might have fallen multiple stories.

“It's not clear whether people were pushed out of the building from the explosion, or whether they fell or jumped out of windows to escape,” Ball said.

Firefighting efforts were hampered by the cold weather. As firefighters aimed their hoses at the flames, water gushed from windows and doorways, forming icicles on window frames and leaving the street slick and icy.

No fatalities have been reported, but authorities aren't sure whether any residents still were inside the building. The roof had partially collapsed, making it too dangerous for firefighters to enter and sweep the premises, said Assistant Minneapolis fire Chief Cherie Penn.

Penn said 14 people were taken to hospitals, and six are considered critically hurt.

Ten victims, including three in critical condition, were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center suffering from burns, broken bones or both, hospital spokeswoman Christine Hill said.

Penn said some victims were taken to Fairview University hospital, where a spokeswoman said she couldn't release any information.

Officials said it wasn't immediately clear what caused the fire. CenterPoint Energy spokeswoman Becca Virden said there were no natural gas leaks in the area.

Plumes of thick, whitish-gray smoke could be seen rising from the building, which has a grocery store on the ground floor and two levels of apartments above it.

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