Mayor calls on community to support families displaced by duplex fire

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More than 100 grieving friends, neighbors, school officials and community leaders joined together on Saturday to support the families who lost nearly everything in a Friday morning duplex fire in north Minneapolis.

The Friday fire killed five children and left two families completely homeless.

Troy Lewis was listed in satisfactory condition on Saturday at the Hennepin County Medical Center, but his two surviving children remained in critical condition, according to the Star Tribune.

The other five children Christopher, 8; Mary, 7; Fanny, 4; Troy, 3 and Gwendolyn, 18 months, were killed in the pre-dawn fire.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges was one of those in attendance to show support for the family.

FOX 9 reports Hodges told the crowd, "It's the hardest on this family and it's hard on a community and leaning on one another is the best way through."

The fire erupted just before 5 a.m. on Friday.

"The heater was on fire in the house," Lewis, told FOX 9's Maury Glover from his hospital bed. "It was just blazing. That's when I backed off because I couldn't get no closer because I was running out of air."

"I don't have my home anymore, I don't have nothing but my two children. I leave here, I don't know where I have to go, I have nowhere to go."

According to the Star Tribune, a downstairs neighbor saw Lewis, sitting on the edge of a second-story window in his boxer shorts, yelling, “ ‘My kids are burning! The house is on fire!’

The blaze was so intense that an interior staircase collapsed before firefighters arrived. Lewis, 60, had jumped from the window, holding one of his seven children.

Officials are investigating the cause of the fire. Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said the fire began on the second floor and spread to the first and third floors.

KSTP said more than 40 firefighters fought the blaze. One was hurt.

The building was last inspected in July 2013 when numerous violations were found, including a smoke detector that needed to be repaired. A city spokesman says necessary repairs were completed last November and the property was given a new rental license a week ago.

The duplex at 2818 Colfax Ave. N. is owned by Mission Inn Minnesota Inc. It's a for-profit company that rehabs fixer-uppers and rents them to low-income families.

One neighbor, Latonya Garrett, said the single-parent family was "having a lot of fun" as it was trying to get by. She said she frequently heard little kids laughing. Their mother, Kim Davis, died of heart failure last fall, leaving her longtime partner to care for them alone. The family had been living on Colfax since October. They had been evicted from other North Minneapolis properties for failing to pay rent.

Two of the children who died were students at the Bethune Community School in Minneapolis. A spokesperson for Minneapolis Public Schools said the district has been working with teachers and parents on how to break the news to the young students.

Schools are closed Monday for Presidents Day, but Bethune will have support and counseling for students Tuesday morning.

It's been a very difficult day," said Stan Alleyne, the district spokesperson.

"We ended up going into classrooms and pulling out teachers in groups and informing them of the news. We also sent a call home to families to let them know. We are guiding some of the families with how to communicate this news to our students. These are young students."

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued the following statement Friday afternoon:

“Today we mourn the loss of five Minnesotans, some of them children, whose lives were taken by a terrible in-home fire. I offer my deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims. I also want to thank the Minneapolis firefighters and other first responders, whose heroism saved lives this morning.”

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