Space Heater Investigated as Cause of Deadly Valentine's Day Duplex Fire

Updated: 02/25/2014 7:55 PM
Created: 02/25/2014 11:33 AM
By: Megan Stewart

A common home appliance could have played a role in a fire that erupted on the second floor of a north Minneapolis duplex, killing five children and sending three others to the hospital on Valentine's Day, according to an investigator.

A space heater that had been running for several days is being investigated as details emerge about the fire.

Around 5 a.m. on Feb. 14, 60-year-old Troy Lewis was awoken by smoke and his children calling to him in his bedroom at a duplex on the 2800 block of North Colfax Avenue, according to an incident report from the Minneapolis Fire Department, which was made public Monday. When he opened his door, he was met by heavy smoke and fire.

When he saw he was unable to reach his seven children, he jumped out a window and went to the back of the duplex and up the rear stairs to rescue them, the report said. He was able to get to two of them on the third floor before he was overcome by the smoke and had to stop.

According to the report, the couple renting the first floor unit were sleeping when their son woke them and told them he heard yelling upstairs.

The Garrets saw Lewis hanging out of the window, yelling there was a fire and his children were in danger, the report said. The Garrets called 911 and evacuated the duplex.

When firefighters arrived, they were met by neighbors telling them children were still in the duplex. As they were entering the building to rescue the trapped children, the windows blew out of the second floor, the report said.

Firefighters located two victims on the second floor and three on the third, the report said. Three of those children were pronounced dead on the scene and two later died at North Memorial Medical Center, the report said. Their ages ranged from 18 months to 8-years-old.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner says Troy, Christopher and Gwendolyn died due to smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning from a house fire, while Mary died due to apparent smoke inhalation and thermal injury, and Fannie died due to "inhalation of products of combustion from a house fire."

Lewis and his two surviving daughters were transported to Hennepin County Medical Center. A family spokesman says Lewis was released from Hennepin County Medical Center over the weekend. On Monday, a hospital spokeswoman said 9-year-old Shaca was in serious condition, and 5-year-old Electra had been upgraded to satisfactory condition.

A 6-foot hole had been burned into the floor of a bedroom, on the third floor and the stairs from the second floor to the third had been burned out, the report said. A bedroom on the second floor had been completely burned through.

According to the report, the living room and dining room on the second floor is the suspected origin of the fire. All the furniture had been reduced to springs, the report said. Lewis told officials the space heater in the living room had been running for several days prior to the fire.

It is unclear what role the space heater played, Minneapolis Fire Inspector Sean McKenna said. It is possible the fire started within the appliance or as a result of a faulty electrical supply or combustibles coming too close to the appliance, McKenna said.

The Minneapolis Police Department and the State Fire Marshal are continuing to investigate.

Meanwhile, funerals are scheduled Saturday for the five children who died.
The Rev. Jerry McAfee, who has been acting as a spokesman for the children's father Troy Lewis, tells the Star Tribune the funeral will take place at 11 a.m. at Shiloh Temple Church.

More than 40 firefighters responded to the fire about 5 a.m. Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel says firefighters encountered heavy smoke and fire on the second and third floor of the duplex as they searched the building for victims.
Photo: AP/Jim Mone
An investigator stands outside a North Minneapolis duplex after an early morning fire that took the lives of three children and injured several others, Friday, Feb. 14.
Photo: AP/Jim Mone

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