As community remembers New Ulm fire victims, investigation continuesby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
New Ulm, Minn. — Residents of New Ulm paid their final respects Thursday night for some of the victims who died in a fire at the Bohemian Bed and Breakfast in over the weekend.
Dozens of floral arrangements flanked Roberta "Bobbie" McCrea's casket inside the Minnesota Valley Funeral Home. Colorful picture collages adorned the room and videos of her daughters, 15-year-old Abby Wood and 3-year-old Savannah McCrea, played in the background. The three were among those who died in the fatal fire Saturday.
"It's absolutely devastating. We go through waves of numbness and shock and tears so hard we fall to the ground," said 30-year-old Emmy Zangl, who was at the funeral home Thursday.
Her dad, Charles Zangl, 53, escaped the fire in the historic, three-story home. He helped McCrea run the bed and breakfast. The two were and were planning to get married.
According to city records, the main house that went up in flames over the weekend had not been licensed or inspected this year. Records show McCrea told the city's fire marshal last December she was only going to use a carriage house behind the main house as the bed and breakfast this year. The carriage house was inspected and a problem noted with the fire extinguisher was resolved.
Even though the main house wasn't licensed for occupancy this year, Emmy Zangl said McCrea and her father routinely had guests stay there.
"She's been having guests forever," Zangl said. "They never stopped having guests. They had moved from the third floor to the second floor for a while, so they took some rooms, so they rented out less rooms, but they moved back up to the third floor because there's been so many requests."
A few blocks away at a news conference, New Ulm Fire Chief Paul Macho officially released the names of the six people killed but did not say what might have caused the fire. He said investigators do not suspect arson, but said the fire was the worst in recent memory in New Ulm.
"You have six fatalities here, that's a significant fire no matter where you are, whether it's a small town or a large city," Macho said. "I would think emergency services anywhere would certainly be a bit shook up on a fire or incident like this."
Macho said five of the victims died of carbon monoxide poisoning and one of burns. He declined to comment on details of where the bodies were found and said he was not aware McCrea had been renting the main house this year.
"I really don't know. I guess I never thought about it," he said.
While the New Ulm community mourns McCrea's loss, she's also at the heart of what will continue to be an ongoing investigation. Since opening in 2002, city records show the Bohemain Bed and Breakfast had two safety violations. In 2010, a kitchen fire extinguisher needed to be checked. And in 2008, smoke detectors needed batteries. Officials say each of those violations was corrected in the allotted time.
Records show in the other years, the bed and breakfast was in compliance with the city's fire code, which has the same requirements as the state fire code. It was not required to have a state inspection because of the number of rooms it has.
Investigators with the New Ulm fire and police departments continue to investigate with help from two state fire marshals who were called back to work from the state government shutdown. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also helping in the investigation.
The other three guests who died were Joseph Bergman, 62, and Dian Bergman, 59, a couple vacationing from Wisconsin, and Andrew Uhinig, 67, who visiting from Nebraska with his wife Sandra, 61. She survived.
Their son, Wilfred Uhing, says his parents were staying at the bed and breakfast for the 4th of July weekend.
"It was a nice bed and breakfast. It was a German town and mom kind of liked some of the European themes," he said. "It was a two- or three-day excursion to go see a little different part of the world before hunkering down and going back to work."
Uhing and relatives of the other fire victims did not comment on any sort of legal actions they might be considering.
- Morning Edition, 07/08/2011, 7:40 a.m.