Dad of kids killed in fire: 'I wanted to get all of my babies'

  • Article by: MAYA RAO and JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 15, 2014 - 11:46 PM

From his hospital bed, Troy Lewis wept at his inability to save them all from the flames.

From his hospital bed Saturday, the father who survived the Friday morning fire that killed five of his seven children wept that he could not save them all from the flames.

“I wanted to get all of my babies,” wailed Troy Lewis. “All of my babies,” he repeated, doubling over in grief. “I wanted all my babies!”

The Minneapolis Fire Department continued to investigate the cause of the blaze at 2818 Colfax Ave. N., one of the deadliest in the city’s history, but disclosed no new information Saturday about how it started and spread.

Lewis remained in satisfactory condition at Hennepin County Medical Center, the same hospital where his surviving children, 9-year-old Shaca and 5-year-old Electra, were in ­serious condition.

He was treated for smoke inhalation and spine injuries from jumping out of a window, but his deepest wound was the loss of so many of his children.

There was 8-year-old Christopher, a budding ladies’ man with dimples who rooted for the Twins. There was Mary, who was likely going to be treated to Chuck E. Cheese’s for her seventh birthday later this month. There was Gwendolyn, the youngest at 19 months who had already grown two teeth up top and two on the bottom.

Fannie was about 5 years old and heading to school soon, while Troy, at 3, was already developing a headstrong ­personality.

In his brief interview with the Star Tribune, Lewis, 60, said that he jumped from a second-story window after the fire broke out. He had heard Shaca calling to him and realized he could not get to her through the kitchen because of the fire. So he leapt to the ground and ran back upstairs to help Shaca, who was gasping for air, out the door.

When he returned for Christopher, he saw it was too late.

“He was dead,” Lewis said. “I saw him burned. I saw my baby burn.”

He had to leave Christopher’s body so he could rescue Electra instead. He concluded that Fannie and Troy were also dead because they had been in the same room as Christopher.

“I had a choice to make, a dead child here or … a live one,” Lewis said.

He helped Electra outside and tried to bring Mary down, but she, too, had already succumbed to the fire. He wanted to go back for Gwendolyn, but the floor was burning hot, and he could barely breathe.

“That’s all,” said Lewis. “Not a hero, just wanted to get my child. I wanted to get all of my babies.”

While many details about how the fire began remain unclear, Lewis described a constant struggle to keep the home warm.

He said the unit was poorly insulated and always cold. A heater on the wall wouldn’t turn on, he said, and he left hot water running in the shower in the mornings so the bathroom would be warm enough for the kids. He also often kept the stove on, though he said he turned it off before going to sleep. He also had bought a space heater to help warm their home.

The landlord, Paul Bertelson, countered Saturday that the walls and ceilings were insulated. He said utilities were in the tenant’s name and they controlled the heat ­settings.

Inspectors said Friday that the building had no current code violations.

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