By AMY FORLITI
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A pre-dawn blaze at a north Minneapolis duplex left five people dead, including at least three children, officials said Friday.
A neighbor described how a young family of eight living in the upstairs unit screamed for help as firefighters smashed into the burning building to try to rescue them.
Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said three children died at the scene. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office later confirmed the two additional deaths, but did not immediately release any information about the victims.
Other residents were injured and taken to area hospitals. The conditions of the injured were not immediately released.
Fire officials said 15 people lived in the duplex.
Brandi Craig, who lives across the street and watched as firefighters tried to rescue the children, said the residents of the duplex's lower unit were able to get out. She said a man, whose wife died in November after an illness, lived in the upper level with seven children, ages 1 to 9. She said at least some of the children slept on the third floor.
"They were all screaming," Craig said, her face twisting with emotion. "Once they stopped screaming, it was over."
Fruetel said firefighters encountered heavy smoke and fire on the second and third floor of the duplex as they searched for victims and survivors.
It took them about 2½ hours to put out the fire. There was a smell of burnt wood in the air hours after the blaze. The house's front exterior appeared mostly intact aside from blown out and broken windows and doors. The interior that could be seen through the window was charred, and there were visible ceiling beams and torn insulation.
The cause of the fire was being investigated.
Craig said she and her fiance took the kids some soda pop on Thursday night.
"We gave them hugs and kisses and told them we'd see them in the morning," she said.
Instead she woke up and the house was engulfed in flames, a blaze already too dangerous for her to do anything but watch as firefighters broke down the door and tried to rescue the kids. She saw them bring two apparently deceased children from the building. At that point, she said, she couldn't watch anymore.
"It just took everything away from me," she said.
City records show an inspection report last summer called for repairs to smoke detectors in the unit, among other violations. City spokesman Matt Laible said all of the violations were taken care of, and that the unit's rental license was renewed just a week ago.
The owner of the property, Paul Bertelson, said the family moved in about six to eight months ago.
"There were no disturbances. They were good tenants," he said, adding that the upper unit included two bedrooms on the second floor, and three on the third floor.
Bertelson's company identifies distressed or foreclosed properties, refurbishes them and rents to low-income families. He said the 102-year-old duplex had smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The upper unit is heated by permanent baseboard units.
Asst. Fire Chief Cherie Penn said in an email that one of the more than 40 firefighters who responded to the scene suffered a minor injury and was being treated at a hospital.