RED WING (AP) -- A fire in an abandoned building in downtown Red Wing sent part of it crashing down and scattered burning embers that started some small fires atop neighboring buildings, including the landmark St. James Hotel.
The fire at the old Fleischmann Malting building was reported around 3:10 p.m. Monday.
''It smoldered for about 20 minutes before it caught fire. Then it just billowed,'' said Syl Andersen, owner of a Citgo gas station a block away. ''The explosion pushed the wall out and blew the roof right off it.''
Several Red Wing firefighters had been standing near the base of the building and were sent scurrying as the top of the tower fell more than 100 feet to the ground. A fire truck was quickly moved away from the falling debris.
''It looked like everything just lifted up and went back down,'' said Dory Lindstrom, who had been driving by and pulled over to watch the blaze in a parking lot across the street.
The small fires on the hotel, the Red Wing YMCA and Riverfront Centre were quickly extinguished, and the main fire was under control by 6 p.m.
No injuries were reported and the cause was not immediately known.
Workers at the St. James Hotel evacuated six guests from the building for about 15 minutes, said Gary Cole, vice president of the company that runs the hotel. But none of the hotel's 60 employees was forced to leave, and a banquet that was scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ''went off without a hitch,'' Cole said.
Nevertheless, hotel workers were breathing easier Monday evening.
''It's such a landmark,'' Cole said of the hotel. ''God was on our side.''
Firefighters were expected to remain on the scene throughout the night to guard against flare-ups.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.