A billowing fire engulfed a three-story building near downtown Minneapolis this morning, sending 13 people to hospitals with injuries ranging from burns to trauma associated with falls. Officials said six of those injuries were critical, but no fatalities were reported. An explosion was reported about 8:15am, and within minutes a fire raged through the building, said Robert Ball, a spokesman for Hennepin County Emergency Medical Services. Paramedics responded to find victims on the ground, some with injuries that suggested they may 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," he said. Authorities weren't sure whether any residents were still inside. Assistant Minneapolis Fire Chief Cherie Penn said the roof had partially collapsed, and it was too dangerous for firefighters to enter and sweep the premises. 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. Flames could be seen through third-story windows, and the frigid air was filled with the acrid smell of smoke. Firefighting efforts were being hampered by the sub-zero temperatures, but fire officials appeared to get the fire under control about 11:30am. (Read more explosion stories.)