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Lawsuit says deaths of 5 children in duplex fire could have been avoided

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A winter blaze that killed five children and injured two more at a north Minneapolis home is the subject of a new lawsuit.

A wrongful death suit was filed against the owner of the property, and says the deaths of the five young children could have been avoided had the landlord provided proper fire safety and heating measures.

In the suit (which you can read here), attorney Jeff Sieben argued the smoke alarms, heating facilities, electrical receptacles, outlets, and features were all inadequate and, if properly maintained, could have prevented the deaths and injuries.

The lawsuit also argues there was no proper fire escape option.

The subject of the wrongful death lawsuit – landlord Paul Bertelson, and his company Mission Inn Minnesota – has previously maintained the heat in the apartment was working and he’d received no complaints from Lewis.

In addition, as many reported at the time, the building had been inspected in the autumn before the fire, and MPR News noted it "was current and up to date, with no outstanding code violations."

A lawyer for Bertelson declined to comment when asked by the Star Tribune about the new lawsuit.

The fire started in the early morning on Valentine's Day of 2014, and gutted the home at 2818 Colfax Ave. N.

Troy Lewis and seven of his children lived on the second floor of the duplex.

Lewis and two of the children, Shaca and Electra, survived. Five others – Gwendolyn, 18 months, Troy, 3, Fannie, 4, Mary, 6, and Christopher, 8 – were killed in the blaze.

The Hennepin County’s medical examiner determined they died of burns and smoke inhalation.

Investigators were unable to find a specific cause. They did determine it started in the middle room of the second level, however, and there was a space heater nearby.

Troy Lewis told reporters the fire was the result of a faulty heating system. He said only two of the unit’s baseboard heaters worked, and he kept the stove lit and a space heater running to keep his family warm. The temperature range the day of the blaze was between 0 and 14 degrees, according to Weather Underground.

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