Cokato, MN Hotel Fire, June 1977


Cokato, Minn., -- Four persons died in a fire at the Cokato Hotel, the Wright County sheriff's office said.
Six persons, a fireman and five residents of the three-story brick hotel, were hospitalized for burns or smoke inhalation.
The fire was discovered at 2:50 a.m. by a deputy sheriff on patrol.
Authorities said a preliminary check indicated that 18 persons lived at the hotel in Cokato, a community of 1,735 persons about 50 miles west of Minneapolis.

Corpus Christi Times Texas 1977-06-08


Careless smoking suspected in fire

Careless smoking suspected in fire

COKATO, Minn -- A deputy state fire marshall says there is a "strong possibility" that careless smoking caused the fire Wednesday which killed five elderly men and injured six other persons.

[illegible] Hanley, who arrived at the scene shortly after the fire began in the Cokato Hotel, has interviewed 40 persons, including five of the six persons who were hospitalized with injuries.
Hanly said that "at this point, I can't see arson as the cause. For one thing, we had a deputy sheriff on the scene at the beginning and he saw nothing suspicious."

"In my opinion, the fire started on the second floor," said Hanly. "I'm kind of zeroing on on careless smoking. It certainly sounds a lot like that is a strong possibility, because of what witnesses said."

"The area of the most intense smoke appeared to be where the smokers' rooms were located rather than nonsmokers," he added.

The blaze claimed four lives Wednesday and a fifth person, Elmer Bockata, 72, a permanent resident of the hotel, died Thursday morning at Meaker county Memorial Hospital in nearby Litchfield....

Jerome Huhn, 27, said he tried to alert other residents, then leaped from his third floor window into a pine tree to break his fall.

"I was lying down and heard a crash," he told a reporter, "I saw smoke and broke my window and then I went back and tried to help two or three other guys."

He said he kicked in the door of the room of an elderly man, urging him to get out, but the man apparently never left the room.

After jumping to safety, Huhn said he ran around the hotel throwing rocks through windows to arouse other residents.

The dead were identified by Wright County sheriff's officers as Kenneth Crider, 63; George Salmela, 72; Alex Juntilla, 70, and August Haavisco, about 70.

Fire Chief Lyle Severson said the [illegible] of the hotel had a wooden fire escaped that was not touched by flames, and an enclosed stairway at the front.

"But the fire involved the second floor fully and the people there probably could not have gotten to the staircases anyway." said Severson....

The hotel was home mostly to retired men, although a few younger ones, such as construction workers, also roomed their. An elderly couple who managed the hotel were among those who fled flames.

Daily Journal, Fergus Falls, MN 9 Jun 1977

Injured List

Names of the dead and the missing persons were not released by authorities....

The injured persons, all from Cokato, were identified as fireman Delbert Rausch, 52; Elmer Beckala, 72; Ernest Hoppe, 75; Darryl Westlund 77; Alden A. O. Anderson, 76, and Harold Rohloff, 69.

Berkula was listed in guarded condition due to smoke inhalation. Rausch, Hoppe and Westlund were listed in fair condition with burns on the face and neck while Anderson and Rohloff were reported in fair condition due to smoke inhalation.

Fire departments from nearby Howard Lake and Dassel were called to the scene, along with ambulances from three communities. Authorities said the hotel is a total loss.

Ironwood Daily Globe, Ironwood, MI 8 Jun 1977