When Ray Lucas and his girlfriend Shi’Ann Brown returned after a trip to the corner store to pick up milk, they found their Michigan home engulfed in flames – and their twin daughters were trapped inside.
His mother, who had been watching the 18-month-old girls, was panicking on the front yard in Eastpointe, Michigan, and trying to get help.
“I was speechless. Action took over me. I ran into the house to get my babies,” Lucas, 23, told CNN. “I’m looking at it as a father. I did anything that any other father would do or should do,” he said.
The fire on July 17 was spreading through three floors inside, including the basement where Malaysia and Milan were in their crib, Lucas said. He wasn’t sure the fire department would get there in time.
He plunged into the burning building, quickly discovering that he couldn’t see anything due to the flames. But he knew his way around and headed to the basement.
He reached the crib and made physical contact with his daughters, “I was so happy they were responsive,” he said.
One of the girls was standing up in the crib, and the other daughter was laying down, but they were both quiet. He believes his daughters were in shock due the fire and smoke surrounding them.
Lucas grabbed his children, held them against his chest to protect them, and made his way back up and out, retracing his steps in the blinding smoke.
Lucas handed his daughters to his mother and then realized his niece was also still trapped on the second floor of the house. Lucas ran back inside and couldn’t find her, so he went to his backyard and saw his niece through the second-story window. He told her to jump through the window, and Lucas caught her with his hands.
“I was ecstatic my babies were OK and everybody was able to walk away from situation. We didn’t lose anyone,” Lucas said.
Father and daughters suffer serious burns
His heroism had its toll.
“My arms burned, both ears burned, right side of face burned, and my neck was burned,” Lucas said. He had second- and third-degree burns, and for three days Lucas was blind because his corneas were damaged and swelled up due to smoke exposure.
At one point, doctors told Lucas that he might not regain his sight, although he has done so.
“My vision I feel is back to normal, it could be better,” Lucas said. But he noted that his burns prevented him from doing everyday things.
Malaysia and Milan sustained serious burns as well. They were both taken to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit and treated in the intensive care unit.
Milan had second- and third-degree burns on the back of her legs and on her feet. Malaysia has second- to third-degree burns to her eyes, cheek and arms. Malaysia needs to undergo physical training and exercise to gain mobility in her arms and loosen her joints.
Both Lucas and his daughters spent five days in the intensive care unit. However, Lucas said doctors to told him the burns will go away over time as long as the right precautions are taken.
Although his injuries have hurt him physically, Lucas said he is “mentally in pain with burns. It was a lot on me mentally. I’ve never been in a situation like that before.”
Family loses home and all possessions in house fire
Lucas and his family have lost their home and all their possessions.
While the cause is still under investigation, Lucas said the fire department told them the house foundation was ruined. “The house didn’t burn all the way down, but it’s a lost cause. Everyone’s possessions were gone from smoke damage or flames,” Lucas said.
In addition, the medical bills have been very expensive, Lucas said, as he and the family have moved in with family in Detroit while sorting out their living situation.
“It’s still not real to me… the situation is still so surreal to me,” Lucas said.
The community however has rallied to their cause.
His aunt created a GoFundMe page to help the family rebuild their lives with an initial goal of raising $40,000. So far, more than 8,000 people have donated more than $286,000.
CNN has reached out to the Eastpointe police and fire departments for comment.