Winona authorities say they are confident the fire that damaged several buildings in the downtown area started in the Winona Islamic Center.
Deputy Police Chief Tom Williams said they cannot make a definite determination until inspectors can get to the area near the rear of the center. Williams said rubble will need to be cleared away by hand because an excavator cannot be used because of a large hole in the floor caused when the roof fell in.
Williams said inspectors were also not immediately able to determine if the fire was an accident or intentional. He said authorities are not sure when the last person was in the building but interviews are continuing with people who normally accessed the center.
Williams said while the fire was reported about 2:00 a.m. Friday inspectors are sure it started some time before that because the Islamic Center was filled with smoke when firefighters arrived.
Williams said the first call came in from a resident above the Blooming Grounds Coffee House who said thick smoke was entering the windows and halls of their apartment but the caller was not able to determine the cause of the smoke.
Inspectors also talked with many of the tenants of the apartments in nearby buildings and no one has reported seeing anything suspicious or unusual.
Williams said many of the 18 people in apartments above the Blooming Grounds Coffee House were allowed back in with an escort to retrieve personal and essential belongings. He said the residents may be allowed back in as soon as late
Other businesses impacted by the blaze will remain closed until they can be cleaned up. Second Street has reopened but Third Street remained closed between Center and Lafayette.
The state fire marshalls office, FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Fire Arms are assisting in the investigation.....