Jacksonville, Florida: Anthony Lewis is blunt when he calls this “the worst week of my life.” A Monday-night fire that ravaged his family’s home in Jacksonville killed Debbie Lewis, his 59-year-old mother after the oxygen she was on ignited and exploded, he believes.
City officials have condemned the home due to fire and smoke, unless Lewis can fix the damage enough to lift the action, he said. He’s started a GoFundMe campaign to help with that. Then the 43-year-old chef learned the Atlanta building where his apartment is has been sold, meaning he’ll need to move, as he deals with the aftermath of his mother’s death.
“I can’t leave the house as it is,” he said Thursday. “It’s all happened in the same week.”
Debbie Lewis’ body was found by Jacksonville firefighters after searching the home in the 1100 block of North Panuco Avenue after being alerted about 5:45 p.m.
Anthony Lewis said his mother had lived in the home for 43 years, a well-known member of the community who was a model and dancer. Due to illness, her health was rapidly failing, he said.
“She was on oxygen. Her body was failing and she only had a few months to live,” he said. “The only way she could live was on pure oxygen. … She took the mask off and would set the mask on the bed. I guess she was smoking and set a cigarette down. I guess the bed smouldered, then it exploded and blew out all the windows. She was crawling on the floor. She didn’t make it past the bed.”
The state Fire Marshal’s Office said its initial investigation had “not uncovered any indications of suspicious activity,” reporting estimated structural damage of $12,000.
The fire destroyed the bedroom, while the whole house is filled with soot, the son said. About 30 friends and community volunteers showed up Wednesday to help clean up while trying to salvage mementos. But there was “nothing to save,” he said.
“My mom worked her whole life to get that house. It killed me to have to throw away everything,” he said. ”… This is all too much on me now.”
Replacing the blown-out windows and front door, and getting a cleaning crew to remove the debris could make the house livable enough to see the city’s condemnation rescinded. But Lewis said he doesn’t have the money as he now sleeps on a friend’s couch. He has started a “Save My Mom’s House” GoFundMe campaign with a $1,200 goal atgofundme.com/f/k79686-save-my-moms-house.