An apartment fire on the Burnsville-Eagan border that injured one person and displaced as many as 20 residents on Thanksgiving was likely started by an smoldering cigarette butt.
Investigators believe the blaze began on a second-story deck outside of the building, where an apartment resident smoking outside may have left an improperly discarded cigarette butt, Eagan Fire Department Chief Mike Scott said on Monday.
From there, the fire likely spread to the building's vinyl siding before leap-frogging to other exterior decks, Scott said. A total of six apartments were damaged in the fire, which took firefighters roughly two hours to extinguish.
So far this year, Eagan firefighters have responded to eight structure fires in the city, according to Scott. In 2011, firefighters logged a total of 10 fires caused by cigarette butts. Over the last three years, smoldering cigarette butts have been the number two cause of fires in Eagan, behind cooking-related fires, Scott said.
"We’ve had some real significant fires because of improperly discarded cigarettes," Scott said, citing the fire at Casper's Cherokee Sirloin Room last year and the Lemay Lake apartments fire.
Because fires caused by cigarette butts typically start on the exterior of the building and move inward, they don't trigger alarms as quickly as fires that start in the kitchen or other interior areas, Scott said. For that reason, firefighters and other emergency crews can't respond as quickly, and cigarette fires tend to cause more damage before they are contained.
The fire last Thursday, which occurred at the Cinnamon Ridge apartment complex in Eagan, just over the Burnsville border, caused an estimated $500,000 in damage, Scott said. The fire was discovered by a woman living in a neighboring building who happened to wake up and see the flames.
Scott urged residents to take caution when discarding cigarettes, and advised smokers to purchase specially-designed outdoor cigarette urns—sand-filled plastic basins—to safely dispose of butts.