Unattended space heater probably caused Colfax Ave. duplex fire - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

Unattended space heater probably caused Colfax Ave. duplex fire

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Nearly 2 weeks ago, the news that five children were killed in a duplex fire in north Minneapolis shocked the city and left firefighters looking for answers that may be emerging now.

The initial reports may not be conclusive, but it does shed some light on what probably left a father to grieve and wonder what might have been -- an unattended space heater that was left running continuously.

By the time firefighters arrived, it was too late to save the five victims. Given the amount of destruction, it seemed like it could be too late to find real answers, but investigators may be close.

The father, Troy Lewis, told investigators there was a space heater located on the second floor, which is where the fire began. He also admitted that it had been "running for several days."

"The space heater played some role in the fire," John Elder, of the Minneapolis Police Department, confirmed. "That much we're pretty confident."

Yet, investigators still aren't sure whether the problem was with the socket, the cord, the heater itself, or whether something nearby caught fire, like a couch. As for the space heater itself, there's hardly anything left.

"Literally a melted piece of metal and other things around it," Elder described. "A glob of stuff."

In fact, investigators aren't even sure what kind of space heater it was. Lewis only remembers buying it at Wal-Mart, and when he bought it may be key. Four years ago, Wal-Mart recalled 2 million space heaters.

The state fire marshal recommends treating space heaters like candles and cautions to never leave one unattended or within 3 feet of flammable materials, children or pets. For indoor use, only electric space heaters are recommended. Diesel and kerosene heaters pose a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in closed spaces.

Nationally, space heaters are the second leading cause of house fires -- but not in Minnesota. In fact, space heaters caused only 25 fires in 2010 for a dollar loss of $1.5 million; however, there is no way to measure the loss on Colfax Avenue.

Investigators will be working with the insurance company State Farm to perform some sophisticated testing on the space heater involved in the fire. If the problem was with the device itself, there may be another recall.

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