Discarded ashes caused Ole Piper Inn fire

The Friday morning fire at the Ole Piper Inn in Blaine will likely be one of the largest single property losses from a fire in Blaine history and it could have been avoided, according to Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View (SBM) Fire Chief Nyle Zikmund.

SBM’s Battalion Chief Dan Retka said the fire department was alerted at 3:38 a.m. Nov. 16 that a burglar alarm had been activated in the business at 1416 93rd Lane N.E. and there was heavy smoke.

As Retka responded to the scene, he could see a heavy plume of black smoke and an extensive fire coming from the roof.

An aerial ladder truck responded and crews were sent in to fight the fire, which was knocked down before it spread to neighboring businesses in the strip mall, in which Ole Piper Inn is located, according to Retka.

However, the smoke spread to other businesses because the walls separating the businesses does not extend all the way to the steel joists above the ceilings of each business. The walls end at the tile ceilings. The smoke spread through the attic that goes along the whole strip mall, Zikmund said.

Besides having individual businesses separated fully by walls so smoke and fire cannot spread as easily, current fire codes also require buildings like this to be sprinkled. Zikmund believes this strip mall was constructed sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s before sprinkler systems were a mandate for businesses.

Zikmund was a rookie firefighter with the department in 1982 and remembered the firefighters going there after Monday night training sessions and for breakfast from time to time.

“If that (building) had been sprinkled, it would have been a non-event,” Zikmund said.

The unit, which Ole Piper Inn is located, will be required to add a sprinkler system now that major renovations must take place, Zikmund said. The other units damaged by smoke, but not fire will not legally have to add a sprinkler system.

The cause of the fire was “carelessly discarded smoking material”, Zikmund said. The establishment closes at 2 p.m. A business surveillance video shows an employee in a back room work area after hours discarding the contents of an ash tray into a trash can.

Within three minutes, Zikmund said there was light smoke. Within nine minutes, the trash can and surrounding area was fully engulfed and the fire quickly spread to the rest of the store.

Zikmund said this incident is a reminder that ashes must be handled carefully and kept away from flammable material. Someone should not assume that ashes have cooled.

The Ole Piper Inn business owner could not be reached for comment.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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