MINNEAPOLIS - Authorities say five of seven siblings were killed Friday morning in a duplex fire on the north side of Minneapolis.
The two survivng children remain in critical condition at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC).
KARE 11's Boyd Huppert talked to friends of the victims' father after they visited him at HCMC Friday afternoon. They say the man, identified as Troy Lewis, told them he awoke to the crying of one of his children and opened his bedroom door, but was chased back inside by intense smoke. The 61-year-old former marine says he jumped out an upper floor window, and then ran in and out of the burning home four times in an attempt to rescue his children. He managed to save two, which the friends identified as girls, but was unable to get to the other five. The father's friends say three girls and two boys didn't make it out alive.
A man who identified himself as Lewis' brother told KARE 11's Adrienne Broaddus that the children ranged in age from 10 months to 7 years old. Chris Anderson says Lewis was in serious condition but was able to talk to him, and is obviously devastated at what happened.
The fire at a duplex at 2818 Colfax Avenue North was called in to dispatchers just before 5 a.m.
Fire crews arrived to find heavy smoke billowing from the second and third floors. Chief John Fruetel says the situation quickly escalated to heavy fire, and his firefighters made entry to the building under what he termed "precarious" conditions. The bodies of three children were recovered, and five others were transported to Hennepin County Medical Center and North Memorial Medical Center.
A woman who lived in the downstairs of the duplex says her little brother woke her up, saying the man upstairs was screaming and the home smelled of smoke. Taleaha Cox says that man and seven children lived in the upstairs duplex. Cox says the man's partner, the mother of the children, died in the past few months.
"It's kinda like, depressing almost, to see that, the kids..." Cox told KARE 11 haltingly. "I hear them all day up there playing around, and to already know what their family is going through, losing a parent already months prior to this, it's like sad. Now he has to bury his kids".
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges echoed those sentiments. "This is a tragic moment for the city of Minneapolis, this is a tragic moment for North Minneapolis, this is a tragic moment for this neighborhood, and this block, and these families," Hodges said.
Two of the children who died are students at Bethune Community School in Minneapolis, one a first grader and the other a second grader. "We share in the sorrow and grief of the families of the children killed in this morning's house fire," said Michael Goar, chief executive officer. "The students will be missed by their teachers, classmates and our entire school community. It is always difficult to understand a loss like this and it is an especially important time to reach out for support."
Minneapolis Public School social workers and other support staff members are providing assistance to affected students, families and staff.
A total of 15 people lived in the duplex; seven of them are being assisted by the Red Cross.
Meantime, the building's owner told KARE 11's Karla Hult he's also devastated by the loss of life.
"This is the saddest day of my life. I can't... it's hard to comprehend what's happening," said Paul Bertelson.
Bertleson owns Mission Inn Minnesota, a marginally profitable company that assists families in need by providing affordable housing.
"Our primary clientele is low income families. Families often times coming out of shelters," Bertelson said, adding that he sought to make sure all of his 20 properties in south and north Minneapolis were safe for those who call them home.
According to city records, the 102-year-old property was last inspected last summer and received only minor violations that were addressed. Bertelson received a new rental license earlier this month. On Friday, Chief Fruetel said the building was "up to code," including having working smoke detectors.
One Minneapolis firefighter was injured while battling the blaze. It was a difficult morning for the 40 or so firefighters who dealt with ice and frigid temps.
A prayer vigil is planned for the family at 1 p.m. Saturday on Colfax Avenue North.
Address for donations:
Minneapolis Federation of Teachers
67 8th Ave. NE, Minneapolis 55413