NEW ULM - Six people are confirmed dead in the early Saturday morning fire at The Bohemian B&B, according to New Ulm Fire Chief Paul Macho.
New Ulm Fire and Police officials did not release the names of the victims, but they did acknowledge that the bodies of four adults, one adolescent and one child were removed from the debris.
Family and friends have confirmed that Bohemian owner Bobbi McCrea and her two daughters, 15-year-old Abby and 3-year-old Savannah, were among the casualties.
Staff photo by Kevin Sweeney
Flames engulfed the Bohemian Bed & Breakfast in New Ulm around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning. Four people are confirmed to have perished, and more bodies are expected to be recovered.
"I've never encountered an incident worse than this," said Macho, "It's the worst the New Ulm Fire Department has ever had."
Four people escaped the fire, including McCrea's fiance and Savannah's father, Charlie Zangl. One of the rescued got out on his or her own, and the other three were pulled from the second floor by rescue personnel.
Two of the individuals were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center. One was treated at New Ulm Medical Center and released. The last was treated at the scene and released.
In addition, two different families, five people total, that were occupying the Bohemian's nearby carriage house escaped. One couple and their daughter are from Alexandria, and they left town around 3 a.m. Saturday. Another couple from North Branch were given accommodations at the Super 8 Motel by the local American Red Cross. They also left Saturday morning.
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. The state fire marshal and the fire investigator from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are working with the New Ulm Fire Department to investigate the scene. Macho said the next press update will not be until after the holiday weekend, after the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's office has had a chance to identify the bodies.
Sudden, Unexpected Disaster
The New Ulm Police Department said the call for the fire at 304 S. German St. came in at 1:44 a.m. on Saturday, from a driver that was passing by.
Macho said the fire appears to have started on the porch facing German Street, and it quickly climbed the exterior of the building before moving inwards.
"It was fast," said Macho, "I'd guess it took 15 minutes before it was engulfed."
Macho said that 33 members of the New Ulm Fire Department responded.
"By the time we got there, the building was already well engulfed," said Macho.
Alex Braaten, who lives next door house at 312 S. German St., said he smelled smoke before he saw fire from his window.
"I looked outside and there was bright orange glow," said Braaten.
He said that in the time it took to get outside, the fire had already spread to cover the entire front side of the building.
"It went up fast," said Braaten.
Other people in nearby houses said they were alerted to the fire by the sound of exploding glass, which they mistook for firecrackers. Some said they initially thought the fire sirens were for children who had injured themselves with fireworks.
Dr. Charles Stephens, 312 S. Minnesota St., said he was asleep and thought the noises were a dream until he saw the siren lights reflect off the trees outside. Once he got outside, he said he saw an orange glow and a column of smoke rising up behind the United Church of Christ building.
"When I saw that, I realized it had to be The Bohemian," said Stephens.
Stephens said that he went to the alley-way between the church and the Bohemian to see the fire.
"I saw members of Bobbi's family. I saw Charlie Zangl, [Bobbie's fiance], and I think he was shouting 'Why aren't they bringing her out?'" said Stephens.
When New Ulm firefighters arrived, the front side of the building was covered with fire. Working in two teams, firefighters made multiple attempts to pull people from the second and third floor. Four people were rescued, but firefighters were unable to rescue the other people still in the building because of the intense heat.
Macho said the Bohemian was made of older wood material, which he said burned slower and allowed for more attempts to rescue people.
Seventeen-year-old Zach Kuck was among the very first to reach the fire. He said he initially started filming the blaze before he realized he was hearing a woman scream for help from the building.
He said that he had difficulty believing the situation was real until he witnessed the building's roof collapse.
"It was really, really loud," said Kuck, "I couldn't believe what was going on."
Bobbi's brother-in-law Mark Hofmann arrived later at the scene and was with the family throughout the incident.
"The police were very respectful. They were there to help, and they only answered question they knew," said Mark Hofmann, brother-in-law of Bobbi McCrea.
He said that his daughter, Ramsey, is also taking he situation very hard because she had dropped Abby off at the house a few hours before the fire.
"She's very sad. You just get to the point that you think, 'How can you comprehend something like this?'"
Macho said the New Ulm Fire Department also has a heavy heart from the incident.
"This is tough for us as well. We have 42 guys, and in a town like this, everybody knows everybody," said Macho, "We're in the business of saving people. When it doesn't go right, there are a lot of sad faces and heavy hearts."
As the smoke from the Bohemian diminishes, friends and family of those believed to have died in the fire are taking account of their loss.
Mary Kissner said she and her husband were good friends with Charlie Zangl, and that they had become friends with Bobbi through him.
"Bobbi was such a lover of New Ulm. She worked so hard to promote the arts here," said Kissner.
Brown County Historical Society Research Librarian Darla Gebhard knew Bobbi and said her loss was a blow to the community.
"Bobbi was bubbly and energetic she loved New Ulm and she was an actor," said Gebhard, "I'm going to miss her support for keeping New Ulm history alive."
Hofmann said he was at a loss for words over the incident.
"It's awful. Bobbi was such a proponent of the community," said Hofmann, "I feel like she really was the heart of New Ulm."
Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org