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Candles blamed in Bohemian fire

Six died in July 2 blaze

July 25, 2011
The Journal

NEW ULM - The July 2 fire that killed six people at the Bohemian Bed & Breakfast in New Ulm has been ruled an accidental fire, caused by unattended candles left on the north side of the front porch of the building.

The announcement was made in a short press release from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

The early morning blaze killed the Bohemian's owner, Bobbi McCrea, 48, and her two daughters, Abby Wood, 15, and Savannah McCrea, 3. Three guests in the inn were also killed: Andy Uhing, 67, of Siouxland, Neb., and Joseph Bergman, 62, and and his wife Dian Bergman, 59, of Centuria, Wis.

Four people escaped from the fire.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Denise R. DeMars's report cites information from interviews with McCrea's fiance, Charlie Zangl, and Zangl's sister and brother-in-law, Ruth and David Mecklenburg, who were visiting the night of the fire.

The Mecklenburgs had arrived after 7 p.m. on July 1 to have dinner with the family. Zangl had grilled pork chops on a Weber grill outside when a storm blew through the area. The family ate dinner at a table on the northeast corner of the porch. Bobbi McCrea had lit at least two candles during dinner.

Partway through dinner, four people arrived and asked if they could stay the night. According to Mecklenburg's statement, everyone helped open the rooms and cool them.

After the fire, New Ulm fire inspector Elwood Zabel reported that the main house had not been inspected the previous December because Bobbi McCrea told him they were not planning on boarding lodgers in the main house, only in the carriage house, separate from the main house. McCrea had not renewed her license for the main house. Zabel said he did not know whether an inspection would have made a difference or saved lives in the fire. Police and firefighters reported hearing smoke alarms sounding when they arrived, and alarms can be heard on a recorded 911 call from inside the house.

The new arrivals reportedly visited on the porch with the family, and went to their rooms about 10 p.m. The Mecklenburgs left about 11:30 p.m. Bobbi had just gone up to put Savannah to bed.

Charlie Zangl told police that the candles on the table were tea-sized candles in a glass jar. There may have been more. He did not recall if anyone extinguished them.

Zangl had apparently fallen asleep watching the Twins game in the first floor TV room. He was awakened when Rodney Zimmer ran through the house shouting that the house was on fire. He had been passing by in a taxi when he saw the fire, and called 911. Zimmer told police he had entered the rear door, but was pushed out by heat and smoke only moments after entering. He only encountered Zangl.

DeMars said fire patterns and witness statements indicate the fire started on the northeast corner of the porch. "The fire built energy before breaking into the home through the picture windows of the TV room and the grand staircase."

All combustible material on the front porch had been consumed, but a candelabra found on the porch supported witnesses' statements about the candles, and deMars concludes they were the cause of the fire.



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