MILWAUKEE - One week before Christmas, a Milwaukee family with eight children is without a home – or much of anything – after a devastating house fire Thursday night, Dec. 16.
Ten people inside the home near 35th and Auer were injured, including seven of the family's eight children. Their mother is grateful to have them all together and out of the hospital now.
"I go back and look at the house – I wonder how we made it out," said Roshunda Tolbert.
The fire was all-consuming.
"All we see is smoke and fire," Nicole Tolbert said.
As flames took over, Roshunda Tolbert's sons who slept upstairs broke windows to escape to a balcony.
"We hit (the window) once; it didn’t break. Hit it again, broke out," said Hector Tolbert.
Milwaukee house fire near 35th and Auer
Once they got out, though, they found themselves stuck again.
"My autistic son’s hanging from the gutter and won’t let go," Roshunda Tolbert said. One of her son's clothes started on fire.
"We couldn’t get to him. I could only pull my hair out and cry in the streets."
Just in time, the Milwaukee Fire Department pulled around the corner. With firefighters' help, everyone got out with only minor injuries. An MFD battalion chief called the response one of the most successful in his 23-year career.
"The bravest acts that I’ve witnessed in my career," MFD Battalion Chief Joel Rechlitz said. "It’s extremely amazing. A lot of things went right."
"Milwaukee Fire Department is just the greatest," said Roshunda Tolbert. "I’m so grateful I have all my children, but the future kind of scares me."
All that the fire took is now consuming the mother's thoughts.
"We have nothing. We have hospital clothes," Roshunda Tolbert said. "I don’t know how I’m going to do Christmas. Hector’s birthday is in two days."
Aftermath of Milwaukee house fire near 35th and Auer
Not all is lost. As overwhelming as the tragedy is, the good will of neighbors helped a family stay together.
"I had three blocks of neighbors catching my kids off the roof. They was there," said Roshunda Tolbert. "I think God was with us. I have my babies."
The family is staying at Roshunda Tolbert's mother's home for now, but they don't have a lot of space. The oldest son has set up a GoFundMe online fundraiser to help.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.