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Aerials show Minneapolis homeless encampment wiped out after massive fire

Journalist who captured encampment fire speaks
Journalist who captured encampment fire speaks 02:31

MINNEAPOLIS — Crews quickly extinguished a fire at a homeless encampment in south Minneapolis Thursday, but not before it was decimated.

The fire broke out at an encampment on the 1100 block of East 28th Street — near Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Midtown Global Market — around noon, according to the city.


Two people were treated at the site for survivable injuries — minor burns and smoke inhalation, Fire Chief Brian Tyner said. 

Officials said outreach teams from both the city and Hennepin County were at the site to assist residents, along with the Red Cross, Metro Transit and several community groups.  

The fire spread quickly, but it only took crews about 30 minutes to put it out, officials said.

"It is a very dangerous situation whenever you have that many flammable materials next to open flames, next to propane tanks," Tyner said.

There was only minor damage to two of the houses near the encampment, Tyner said.

Mayor Jacob Frey stressed the city's desire to prevent camps like this one from forming and get residents into permanent housing.

"Homeless encampments of this significant size are not safe," Frey said. "They're not safe for the people living at the homeless encampment. They're not safe for the surrounding neighbors."

City Operations Officer Margaret Anderson Kelliher said the site will be fenced off and tested by an environmental testing firm.

John Gonzalez captured harrowing video of the fire showing residents scrambling to save their belongings and escape the blaze. Gonzalez said there are about 20 yurts at the encampment, with 60 to 100 people living at the site.

Witness video shows fire quickly spreading through Minneapolis encampment 01:52

Gonzalez is a journalist with Standing Bear Network, an indigenous media group.

"After we saw the flames, things started to explode," he said. "They were propane canisters, there were fire extinguishers and things started to explode. Big ball of fire just engulfing everywhere."

Shortly before 5 p.m., a WCCO crew saw a new camp being set up a few blocks away from the site of the fire.

Earlier this month, city crews evicted the residents of Camp Nenookaasi in south Minneapolis. It was the third time in four weeks the city cleared the migrating residents' camp. City leaders said the camp posed health and safety issues, while organizers, residents and supporters of the camp criticized the city for closing it without a plan. At one point, the camp was home to more than 100 people.

Neighbor recounts moments fire broke out

Neighbor recounts moment Minneapolis encampment fire broke out 02:11

As people raced to escape the explosive fire, just feet away, Ashley Jensen was busy working when she saw the flames out her bedroom window.

"I grabbed my dog and ran out the front door," she said.

Just the day before, she was on the phone with the city attorney, looking for a solution after seeing needles all over her backyard.

"The most sad thing was all these people lost their home as much as it was difficult to have them as neighbors," Jensen said.

Just half a block away, a new encampment is set up for 50 people, many of whom at Native Americans.

Camp organizer Nicole Mason believes it is crucial to get people connected to resources.

"It's proven that this works, this is the most they've been able to find and get people off the streets," Mason said.

Despite the camp getting cleared three times before burning down, Mason says they've been able to get more than 100 unhoused people into safe housing.

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