Cause of Downtown Winona Fire Still Unknown

Posted at: 09/14/2013 12:39 PM
Updated at: 09/16/2013 7:10 AM
By: Katherine Johnson

Investigators believe they've found the point of origin of the Winona fire.

Crews were wading through five feet of rubble, hoping to learn how the fire started that destroyed three historic downtown buildings. 

"We believe that we have kind of narrowed it down to the Islamic Center in the back corner," said Deputy Chief Tom Williams with Winona Police Department.

Still unsure because the building is shaped like an "L" and that back corner is impossible to reach with an excavator. So crews are going at it inch by inch.

"It's basically hand-digging at this stage in the game to try and determine if this is in fact the actual point of origin," said Deputy Chief Williams.

Next door at Pipe Dream Toys, Kelly Stiles is also in for a long day.

"It's my birthday today!" she said. "So I'm spending my birthday cleaning up glass, but that's ok."

Stiles volunteered to welcome 23 in by helping out, knowing many workers don't have a job to go to.

"I feel so bad for the other business owners and this whole block," she said.

"Winona is a tight-knit community and a lot of people are pitching in to help those people who have been displaced," said Williams.

Before the sun was up, an ATF agent was already surveying the scene Saturday.

"Still a lot of unanswered questions," said Williams. "Still trying to determine if anybody was actually in the building leading up to the time of the fire."

Williams says based on the structural damage, investigators believe the fire had been burning long before the 1:50 a.m. 911 call, adding the Downtown Historic District will most likely remain a crime scene for days.

As crews continue to work, police realize the crime scene tape is easy to cross, so Winona police have stationed officers on either end of the block, 24 hours a day to keep thieves away and curious citizens safe as the investigation continues.