FRIDLEY, MN — One of the two children burned in a vehicle fire in Fridley Tuesday morning has died.
The incident occurred in a Walmart parking lot, when a vehicle caught fire and the flames jumped to another vehicle. Two children in the second vehicle, ages 6 and 9, suffered burns and injuries due to smoke inhalation.
The 6-year-old child has died, Hennepin County Medical Center confirmed Wednesday with permission from the mother.
The 9-year-old remains in critical condition.
Fridley Police spokesman Lt. Jim Mork says dispatchers received a 911 call around 7:15 a.m. from the parking lot of the store at 8450 University Avenue. The early investigation indicates that one van caught fire, and the flames quickly spread to a second van with two young girls, ages 9 and 6, trapped inside.
Mork says both children suffered significant burns and injuries due to smoke inhalation. The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office says the owner of the van where the fire started has been arrested on suspicion of “negligent fires” based on an interview and on physical evidence.
“The fire was very intense, an awful lot of smoke and flames, there were windows exploding and even parts from inside the vehicle that were shooting outside, as far as 30 or 40 feet from the vehicle,” Mork shared.
Investigators believe the mother of the children was inside shopping for 45 minutes to an hour, and left the girls alone in the van, Mork says. At this point it is uncertain if she will face criminal charges, but he says the main concern is with the girls.
“It’s terrible. You fall back on your training and do everything you can to help the situation,” Mork said. “Most of our officers are parents so automatically your thoughts go to your own children.”
A woman sitting in the passenger seat of the van that burned managed to escape without injury. The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office reports that she is the wife of the vehicle’s owner.
A third vehicle parked next to the vans also suffered significant fire damage, and two others showed damage from the heat of the fire.
Kathy Skillings and Cheryll Thurston were strangers when they walked up to Walmart Tuesday morning, but both were thinking the same thing when they saw three cars on fire in the parking lot. “I walked over and asked them (the couple whose van first started on fire) if they were OK, if they needed anything and just started helping them,” Thurston recalled.
She soon learned that the couple had just traveled to Minnesota for work, and lost nearly everything they owned in the van fire.
“He lost everything,” Thurston related. “Their clothes, their cell phone, their computer, all their contact information, they only know one person in Minnesota but he didn’t know their phone number. We got a hold of his work, they know what happened you know, we got a hold of his friend, they’re on their way from Burnsville to help and assist.”
“I gave water, gave 20 bucks to the couple so they can get some food,” added Skillings. “I don’t come to this Walmart, I usually go to the other one, but something led me here.”