Winona State University student Dane Jensen was playing a video game about 3 p.m. Wednesday in his rental house when he heard a fire alarm go off downstairs.
A few minutes later, a cable TV installer came running upstairs and told him the house at the intersection of Broadway and Main Street in Winona was on fire.
Jensen, the only one home at the time, ran from the top floor to the sidewalk, where he saw smoke “billowing out of the basement,” he said.
The fire that broke out in the five-apartment house at 79 W. Broadway injured no one, but caused serious damage in the basement and smoke damage in many of the other rooms, according to the Winona Fire Department.
The fire will leave the house’s 16 residents, many of whom are Winona State University students who play on the football team, temporarily homeless. WSU on Wednesday said it is providing housing for seven students.
The cause of the fire was unknown Wednesday, but Winona Fire Department Captain James Pelley said it is believed to be accidental.
WSU student Katie Sirek was one of the first witnesses to the fire. She was on her way home from a run when she saw smoke near her block and smelled something burning.
“At first I saw a bunch of smoke and was like, ‘What in the world,’” she said. “I thought it was grilling.”
Then she got closer and saw the house burning.
“Fire just started coming up and it started engulfing the side of the house,” Sirek said.
When several responders Winona Fire Department arrived on scene, a room in the basement had caught fire and the flames were reaching out the window and onto the side of the house. Winona Fire Department Captain James Pelley said firefighters who entered the basement encountered smoke so dense they couldn’t see more than a foot in front of them.
About 3:30 p.m., with the fire under control, firefighters tore burned siding from the blackened basement window and removed insulation to keep it from catching fire.
About the same time, the residents who were at football practice were notified and began to arrive on scene—along with their coach, Tom Sawyer.
“One of the neighbors came down and told us,” Sawyer said after taking a quick picture of the charred window with his cellphone.
“But I keep looking at the positive,” he said. Nobody got hurt.”