Fire inspector called back to help New Ulm investigationby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — An state fire inspector who was laid off during the government shutdown was called back to help investigate a fire Saturday in New Ulm that killed six people.
Doug Neville, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, says a judge who ruled on what state services should continue operating during the shutdown did not declare the fire marshal's office "critical."
Despite the shutdown, the department responded as it usually does with emergencies.
"In our contingency plans, we have 24/7 contact information for these people, so if it becomes necessary to recall them to perform a critical function, we can do that," said Neville. "It may not be for the duration of the shutdown that they come back, it's to come back to perform that critical function."
Neville says the investigator will be paid for the hours she worked.
The fire broke out early Saturday at a popular bed and breakfast. It was the worst blaze in the southern Minnesota city in recent memory, local officials said.
New Ulm fire and police officials haven't identified the victims, saying only that four adults, an adolescent and a child were killed in the fire. But family and friends tell The Journal of New Ulm that the victims included the inn's owner, Bobbi McCrea, and her daughters, 15-year-old Abby and 3-year-old Savannah.
"I've never encountered an incident worse than this," Fire Chief Fire Chief Paul Macho said.
The newspaper reports that four people escaped from the fire, including McCrea's fiance, and five people staying in a carriage house on the property also got out.
Macho said the fire appears to have started on the porch facing German Street, and it quickly climbed the side of the exterior of the building before moving in.
"It was fast," Macho said. "I'd guess it took 15 minutes before it was engulfed."
Investigators haven't yet determined what started the fire. Police said someone driving by reported the fire before 2 a.m. Saturday. Macho said 33 members of the New Ulm Fire Department, along with a company and fire truck from Sleepy Eye, fought the blaze.
It was a night that few witnesses will forget.
Zach Kuck, 17, was among the first to reach the fire. He said he started filming the blaze on his iPod, but then he heard a woman scream from help from the building. He said he couldn't believe it was real until the building's roof collapsed, saying it was "really, really loud."
"I couldn't believe what was going on," Kuck said.
Alex Braaten, who lives next door, said he smelled smoke before he saw fire from his room.
"I looked outside and there was bright orange glow," Braaten said. In the time it took to get outside, the fire had already spread to cover the front of the building, he said.
Macho said the tragedy has been hard for local firefighters.
"This is tough for us as well. We have 42 guys, and in a town like this, everybody knows everybody," he said. "We're in the business of saving people. When it doesn't go right, there are a lot of sad faces and heavy hearts."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)