Firework caused apartment building blaze in St. Paul’s Highland Park, says charge filed against woman

18 July 2023

A cellphone video taken by a resident of a St. Paul apartment building before it went up in flames helped lead investigators to an 18-year-old woman who admitted to setting off a firework that caused the blaze, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.

The Ramsey County attorney’s office charged Aisha Wali Abdulle with one felony count of starting a negligent fire in connection with the July 8 blaze at a Highland Park apartment building that displaced about 30 residents and caused an estimated $2 million in damage.

Firefighters responded to a report of a grass fire on the lawn of the building in the 1300 block of St. Paul Avenue about 4:20 p.m. Wind gusts of 22 mph and dry conditions contributed to the fire spreading rapidly from trees against the apartment building to attic space above third-floor apartments, St. Paul fire officials said at the time.

Fire investigators found firework debris in the area where the fire started and residents reported hearing fireworks just before seeing flames in the grass.

An apartment building fire in the 1300 block of St. Paul Avenue in St. Paul on July 8, 2023, started with a grass fire on the lawn. It spread from trees against the apartment building to attic space above third-floor apartments. (Courtesy of the St. Paul Fire Department)

A resident gave investigators a video that showed a small grass fire with two females pouring water on it, according to the criminal complaint. The fire spread to a bigger area and wind eventually blew flames into the side of the building, which became fully engulfed.

Police investigators identified the driver and others who were seen near a vehicle before a firework was set off. The driver said that she and Abdulle and two others went to the building to grab items they were going to take to a party.

After the driver parked in the bike lane, Abdulle started setting fireworks off in the street in front of the car, the complaint said.

The driver said she warned Abdulle not to set off fireworks near vehicles or dry grass, but Abdulle lit one and threw it in the grass, which began to burn, according to the complaint. They tried to extinguish it, then called 911 and left for the party when firefighters arrived on scene.

When investigators spoke with Abdulle, she said she lit the firework and threw it in the grass, according to the complaint. She said the fire was not intentional and that they tried to put it out.

Abdulle went before a judge on the charge Tuesday and was released without bail. She is due back in court Aug. 7.

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