MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Two children remain in critical condition after a fire killed five of their siblings on Friday morning, and investigators are still trying to determine how the fire started in the first place.

The fire happened at a duplex on 29th Street and Colfax Avenue North in Minneapolis shortly after 5 a.m. When firefighters arrived, they found heavy smoke on the second and third floors but that quickly changed to fire.

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Three children died at the scene while several other victims were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center, including the children’s father, Troy Lewis.

He spoke to WCCO from his hospital bed Friday evening about the struggle he went through trying to save his children.

“I kept hearing them holler. And then it got quiet, and I couldn’t reach them,” he said. “All I can say is that they were beautiful children. Should have never moved into that house.”

Lewis was in satisfactory condition at HCMC Friday night, suffering from smoke inhalation. Two of the children he pulled to safety were Shaca, 9, and Electra, 6; both were in critical condition Friday night.

The ages of the seven children ranged from 1 to 9 years old. Their mother died in November from an illness.

The owner of the property, Paul Bertelson, said Lewis and his family were good tenants, adding that the upper unit included two bedrooms on the second floor, and three on the third floor.

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Bertelson’s company identifies distressed or foreclosed properties, refurbishes them and rents to them low-income families. He said the 102-year-old duplex had smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

On Saturday afternoon, a prayer vigil was held in front of the home. Classmates, teachers and community leaders stood in falling snow to remember the five children who lost their lives, and the two who are still fighting for theirs.

Melissa Jackson, principal at Bethune Elementary, said she got to know some of the children after their mother died in November.

“Beautiful children — kindergarten, first-, second-, third-grade. I spent many minutes and memories with them. All just, beautiful, strong children. Loved coming to school, loved being a part of the school community. And it’s just sad to see they won’t be with us anymore,” Jackson said.

This is the second major fire in the city in as many months. On New Year’s Day, an apparent explosion and fire destroyed an apartment building near downtown Minneapolis on Cedar Avenue. Three people died.

Minneapolis has suffered at least eight fire deaths already in 2014.

Donations for the Lewis family can be made out to MFT 59, and all checks can be made out to “in care of the Lewis family.” The phone number is 612-529-9621.

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The Garrett family, who lived on the first floor of the duplex, also lost their home in the fire. Donations can be made at BMO Harris Bank “in care of the Garrett Family.” The phone number is: 612-238-8700.

John Lauritsen