New Ulm B&B fire that killed 6 started by candlesby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
New Ulm, Minn. — State fire investigators say candles started a July 2 fire that killed six people at a New Ulm bed and breakfast.
The candles were lit as part of an evening supper for five on the porch of the Bohemian Bed and Breakfast. David Mecklenburg of Sleepy Eye, who was one of the people at the table, told investigators that the inn's owner, Roberta McCrea, lit at least two candles the night before.
The still-burning candles started the blaze early the next morning, according to the report by the Minnesota Fire Marshal. The report classified the fire as accidental, New Ulm Police Department investigator Chris Moellenhoff said.
McCrea, her two daughters, and three tourists died in the fire. One of the victims was Andy Uhing of Hartington, Neb. His wife, Sandy, survived.
The Uhing's son, Wilfred, said he knew that investigators had identified candles as a possible cause.
"The official report, when it was released, was not a shock to the family," Uhing said. "Having talked to mom, it was something that was brought up in her comments to the investigators. And right now we just know that sometimes bad stuff happens and it's unfortunate for everybody that was involved."
According to the report, the supper table was in the northeast corner of the porch. There was a candle on the table and a candelabra on the floor in the corner. Mecklenburg told investigators that he thought the candles were blown out when the dinner broke up at about 11:30 p.m. Friday, but said he could not be certain.
McCrea's fiance, Charles Zangl, told investigators he did not recall anyone extinguishing the candles.
The fire marshal's office's investigation shows the blaze started in a corner of the porch where the candles were located. No other heat-producing appliances were found in that corner.
The investigation could not determine exactly what the candles ignited.
The police investigation has concluded and the department will not recommend criminal charges against anyone. said police investigator Moellenhoff.
Wilfred Uhing said his mother incurred hefty medical bills in her recovery from fire injuries, which included burns and a fractured vertebrate. Her burns have healed, her back is mending, and that she's able to walk and get around, he said
Some of the survivors and their families could pursue legal action.
However, Uhing said his family has not decided whether to sue to recover damages. He said his father, who died in the fire, had previous conversations with family members about what to do should this sort of event occur and urged that they avoid vindictiveness.
"He always said if something unfortunate did happen, that hopefully we had a strong enough faith where we didn't hold anybody accountable for it," Uhing said. "There's certain things we don't know the reasons why and sometimes it's just an unfortunate, tragic accident. And that's kind of what this was."
The Bohemian Bed and Breakfast did not have a current license to house guests, nor had the building been inspected in recent months, New Ulm fire officials said.
The fire marshal's report does not mention that detail, or whether an inspection could have prevented the fire.
- All Things Considered, 07/25/2011, 5:50 p.m.