SFMD fire investigators help local business owners find closure after civil unrest

June 21, 2021

Two fire investigators and a police officer​​​

​It's safe to say a lot of things changed the day George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. Angry people made their voices heard in the Twin Cities – but some turned to dangerous, destructive behaviors, like setting fires. A total of 164 arsons caused millions (possibly billions) of dollars in damage to local businesses and buildings: gas stations, grocery stores, auto parts stores. A dentist's office. A taco shop. Even a neighborhood school. All of them up in flames.

Those local business owners deserve to know who set fire to their business – who caused years of hard work to go up in flames in mere minutes – and to know that the arsonists will be held accountable for the destruction they've caused. Community members who rely on those same businesses for employment or other services deserve answers, too.

Investigating arson fires is no small task, especially on this scale. It was only possible because all fire investigation agencies worked together: local, federal and state. The State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD) ​alone sent five investigators, who spent several weeks in the Twin Cities working with their local and federal counterparts, including the Minneapolis and St. Paul fire departments and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives National Response Team.

The destruction was unprecedented. The number of investigators, the hours worked, blocks of devastation and burned buildings: No one had seen anything like it before, and some found it overwhelming and frightening. Emotions ran high, and some of the scenes were still dangerous. But the fire investigators were determined to find answers for business owners affected by the fires. It was difficult but important work.

And although some of the fires are still under investigation, many of the arsonists responsible have been sentenced under federal charges, hopefully bringing the local business owners affected at least some of the closure they deserve.

SFMD Chief Investigator Jim Iammatteo summed up the difficulty and hope these arson investigations brought: “Fire investigations are never easy, but the fire investigations last May in the Twin Cities were some of the hardest and most important cases our team has ever worked on. We are proud to have worked with our federal and local partners to find answers for business owners and the community, and to hold people accountable."