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Another St. Paul house fire with illegal basement bedroom

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A house fire in St. Paul Sunday was the third one in recent months that involved someone who had to escape from a basement bedroom that didn't have a legal exit. In the most recent incident, a woman in her 20s managed to escape through a small window in the basement bedroom of her parents' house.

In November, a man died when he was trapped in the basement of a house on Lexington Avenue, and in February, firefighters rescued a 9-year-old girl who was trapped in the basement of her home in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood.

St. Paul fire officials said the smoke alarm went off Sunday in the house on Tuscarora Avenue, and Darlene Centeno was “young enough and small enough” to climb through a “very small” window in her basement bedroom. Officials added that the basement apartment was “illegal” and “dangerous.”

“Most people don’t know the rules about escape windows," fire investigator Jamie Novak said, according to the Star Tribune.

Bedrooms in basements must have two exits -- that usually means any windows must be large enough for a person to get through.

Basement bedrooms with illegal windows are often found in older homes where owners have remodeled basements built for furnaces or appliances.

Centeno, who is slim and 5-foot-2, said she was home after just graduating from St. Mary’s College in Winona. The smoke alarm woke her, and she said she broke the small ceiling window and escaped without injury, according to the Star Tribune.

She said her family was at church when the fire started.

Five Chihuahuas were killed in the fire, but firefighters were able to resuscitate one dog.

Novak said the fire was caused by a hookah pipe that someone was using in the basement, which was not properly extinguished, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

He estimates the damage at $80,000.

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