Unsafe Structure of Kozy Prolongs Investigation into Cause of Latest Fire, Chief Says

Chief Krizaj said a natural spark like lightning isn't suspected, and no electricity or people were found inside.

DULUTH, Minn.- Duluth’s Fire Chief spoke out Monday involving Sunday’s fire, once again at the condemned former Kozy building in Downtown Duluth — with the cause still under investigation.

According to the Chief, the fire broke out around 9:50 Sunday morning, on the second floor above the bar. The flames were put out around three in the afternoon.

“We got things fairly under control pretty quickly for a building of this size,” said Chief Shawn Krizaj.

He confirmed that no one was found in the building, and no one was injured. “So no one had any reports of anyone in the building from the start or while they were interviewing people on the scene.”

Krizaj added Sunday’s fire was most similar to the original fire that forced the building to close 10 years ago.

“I don’t know that it is different other than the fire in 2010 there was actually residents here,” he said. “Since it’s been condemned for habitation and it’s, there have been kind of nuisance fires. So I don’t know that I would say this is different.”

There was no conclusive cause found for that first big blaze a decade ago.

And now the Chief said it may take a long time to determine a cause for this fire as well, due to the damage the building structure has taken over the years keeping firefighters and investigators from entering.

“From a firefighting standpoint it’s questionable, so that’s why we’ve had this order again for a few years that our crews are not gonna enter the building unless there’s a legitimate life safety concern, meaning a legitimate rescue,” he said.

While the full investigation into the cause is pending, the Chief said a natural spark like lightning isn’t suspected, and no electricity or people were found inside.

Still, he said people in the area shouldn’t be concerned about an arsonist in the neighborhood right now.

“We don’t have any knowledge there’s any public safety concerns other than entering the building, it’s definitely the building that’s a public safety concern for us. We don’t have any knowledge that there’s any other concerns for the public with regards to that,” he said.

Speaking to FOX 21 Sunday former Kozy owner Eric Ringsred said many of the fires over the years and this one could have been avoided — if the city, he says, took care of the structure.

“I mean there’s a law protecting this just like there’s a law protecting wetlands and things like that,” said Ringsred.

“I don’t know if that’s coming through to them that like the rest of us there’s certain things that we might not like to do, all of us, but it’s a legal obligation,” he said.

The City of Duluth has been fighting with Rinsgred in court since he lost the building to tax forfeiture after the initial fire, arguing it should be torn down and used potentially for housing.

Right now the building is owned by the Duluth Economic Development Authority (DEDA), who last week proposed $135,000 to maintain the building between court cases, as the law requires.

Despite the fire, the Duluth City Council is still set to vote on that proposal at their meeting November 9th.

But according to a city spokesperson, all of that money doesn’t have to be used right away, and DEDA will further discuss that after seeing the findings of the fire investigation.

“I think it further complicates the situation,” said Public Information Officer Kate Van Daele.

Meanwhile Chief Shawn Krizaj said the longer any vacant building sits empty, especially one damaged as this, the more of a hazard it becomes. “Right now there’s nothing that we’re aware of that’s worth saving in there right now.”

“So I would say the structural integrity of the building is questionable,” he said.

Meanwhile according to Van Daele there is no word yet on when that section of first street will reopen to traffic. “We’re working hard with an external contractor to secure the building and so my understanding is it could be another day or two.”

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