A blaze that killed five in a 25-storey building with few sprinklers has prompted comparisons to Londons Grenfell fire
Warsame Omar lives on the 15th floor of Minneapoliss Cedar High apartments, exactly one floor above where a fire started early on Wednesday morning. He woke to find his room full of thick black smoke. The elderly Somali man ran outside to the stairwell, where he vomited. He remembers a black substance coming out of his mouth and nose.
Omar managed to escape alive, but others in the 25-floor public housing complex located in the heart of Minneapoliss Somali community did not. The fire killed five people, injured at least four more and has sparked an argument in the city about its dilapidated public housing.
In a debate with echoes of Britains Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 in 2017, the conversation has centered on whether the city has failed to make safe the housing it provides to its poor and vulnerable, essentially putting their lives at risk as it seeks to save money and maintain a system long underfunded by the federal government.
Omar was taken to an emergency room where, he said, doctors removed black smoke from his lungs. Now, many of his belongings and clothing in his home are covered in soot, and hes worried about how what happened could affect his health.
Im not trying to complain but I need help. I need help, he told the Guardian with the help of a volunteer translator, clutching a report from this ER visit in his hand as he spoke.
Investigators have not determined what caused the fire, which happened during the years first major snow storm, though the Minneapolis fire chief, John Fruetel, said he believed it was an accident.
Public attention has begun to center around what Fruetel has acknowledged could have contributed to the rapid spread of the flames: the high rise did not have sprinkler systems above the two lowest floors.
City officials have said that because of the age of the building, which was constructed in 1969, it was not required by city code to have a sprinkler system but that, some say, is exactly the problem.
Nobody should have died. A small fire should not have resulted in the death of five people. Because if youre having such dense housing, there should be a sprinkler system in an apartment building. Even though that may not be required by code, that should be required because Minneapolis public housing authority has a responsibility to provide safe and secure housing to all of its residents, said Kaaha Kaahiye, a resident of public housing and organizer with Defend Glendale, an advocacy group long critical of the public housing authority (MPHA).