Pastor Mark Carroway fought back the tears as he spoke about his two young daughters who lost their lives in a house fire in Wilmington.
"I know they're with the Lord but it's just bittersweet," he said. "They were innocent."
Carroway told NBC10 he had left his home on the 400 block of North Monroe Street Tuesday afternoon to pick up four of his children from school. Carroway's wife, 37-year-old Christina Carroway, their 3-year-old daughter Elizabeth, 3-month-old daughter Zipporah and their 2-year-old daughter were all inside the home at the time.
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Carroway told his wife the entire family would go out to get something to eat when he returned. It would be the last time he saw Elizabeth and Zipporah alive.
A fire started in the first floor living room at the home around 4 p.m. A paramedic in the area noticed the smoke and called 911. Neighbors told NBC10 they heard Christina Carroway screaming as the flames spread.
"She was in shock, but she was worried about her kids," said Aaron McManus. "She was just screaming like, 'My kids! My kids! My kids!'"
When firefighters arrived, they found Christina lying on the street with burns to nearly half her body. A passerby and a police officer managed to pull her 2-year-old daughter to safety.
"She threw her baby out of the door to make sure her baby was safe," said Reginald Carter, a witness. "We pulled her out. By that time she said her babies were still upstairs."
Elizabeth and Zipporah were still trapped inside. When firefighters moved into the home they found Elizabeth on the first floor and Zipporah on the second floor. Both girls died from their injuries.
It’s the second tragic fire that Carroway has had to deal with. His mother and niece died in a fire in Camden back in 1995.
Christina Carroway and her 2-year-old daughter were both taken to the hospital. While the girl was released and is doing okay, Christina remains in critical but stable condition.
During a news conference Wednesday, fire officials said in an effort to save money, the local Wilmington fire department does rolling shut downs of its engines. The engine that would have responded first was out of service.
However, officials said the crew that arrived at the fire scene actually got there faster because it was already on the road. They were there in 90 seconds, but fire officials said the blaze was already too intense.
"The loss of life is devastating," said Wilmington Fire Chief Anthony Goode. "The loss of children is even more so. Every time you hear a child is trapped you step on that gas a little harder. You get there a little faster. You go harder to a call."
The home did not have any working smoke detectors, officials said. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
A vigil for the two girls was held around 5 p.m. Wednesday. The City of Victory Church in Wilmington is making an appeal for donations of children’s socks, undergarments, pajamas and clothing.
Donations can be dropped off beginning at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at The City of Victory, which is located at 100 Philadelphia Pike in Wilmington. For more information, you are asked to call 302-543-3770.