Cause still unclear in Aurora fire that killed six
BY ERIKA WURST email@example.com May 15, 2011 7:18AM
An Aurora firefighter surveys the damage on Sunday morning to an apartment building at 760 Claim Street, where an overnight fire killed six people, including three children, and injured at least 10 others. | Jeff Cagle~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 29, 2011 12:37AM
AURORA — Six people, including three young boys, were killed and 12 others injured in an apartment fire early Sunday morning on Aurora’s near East Side.
The fire started around 4:06 a.m. at 760 Claim St., a three-story, stucco building separated into 10 units, Deputy Fire Chief John Lehman said..
Lehman said the fire started on the first floor of the building, and that eight to 10 people occupied the apartment where the fire began.
Lehman said the residents attempted to control the fire with a garden hose, and then alerted people in other units to evacuate.
Investigators have not determined a fire cause, but it does not appear to be suspicious, city officials said.
About 25 to 30 people lived in the building, Lehman said. Ten of the residents were rescued from the burning building by firefighters, while the rest got out by escaping through windows and a back staircase.
City officials said it appears some of the people who died in the fire were related.
City spokesman Dan Ferrelli said police were still trying to identify the victims and their relationships to one another. Kane County Coroner Chuck West said autopsies are scheduled for Monday morning and not all the victims had been identified. None of the victim’s names had been officially released as of Sunday evening.
Three of the victims — a 9-year-old boy and two women between 30 and 40 years old — were pronounced dead at the scene.
A boy about 5 to 7 years old, a 20-year-old man and an 8-month-old boy were pronounced dead on arrival at Rush-Copley Medical Center.
Two adult men and a teenage boy were taken to Provena Mercy Center for treatment. A 2-year-old girl taken to Provena Mercy later was flown to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where she was in critical condition Sunday, Lehman said.
Three women, ages 13, 35 and 40; and three men, ages 8, 14, and 16, were taken to Rush-Copley Medical Center for treatment of injuries, city officials said. They were all taken to the hospital by Aurora police.
A woman in her 30s and a girl about 2 to 3 years old were taken to Delnor Community Hospital in Geneva, where they were treated and released, officials said.
‘Very tragic thing’
No one in the apartment where the fire started was killed, Lehman said. When firefighters arrived, the door to that first-floor apartment was open. The common stairwells in the front and rear of the structure combined to create a chimney effect which intensified the fire and trapped the occupants of the second and third floors, city officials said.
The fatalities occurred in two apartments where residents opened their front doors, causing fire to rush in, Lehman said. Units in which residents did not open their doors sustained smoke damage, but no fire damage, he said.
According to police, the building was last inspected in June 2010 and only non-life safety violations were found. Those violations were brought into compliance in February 2011, city officials said.
Smoke detectors were activated in the main areas of the building, but Lehman said it is not known whether they were working in individual units when the fire started.
“Our men did a tremendous amount of work in a short period of time,” Lehman said of his fire crew. “I’m very proud of them. To have something like this happen to the residents of Aurora is a very tragic thing.”
Lehman said Aurora police assisted firefighters in the rescue, taking victims to the hospital via squad car as the ambulance crews worked on victims with life-threatening injuries.
Ambulance crews from the Naperville, North Aurora and the Montgomery fire departments assisted. Because of the extent of the blaze, investigators from the State Fire Marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also were on the scene Sunday.
Victims flee through windows
Seventeen-year-old Elva Renteria was in one of the smoke-damaged apartments. She said she woke up around 4 a.m. when she was having trouble breathing.
Renteria, who lived in a first-floor apartment with her husband, child, mother, father, and several brothers and sisters, escaped through a window and was uninjured.
“We just took the screens off the windows and ran out,” she said.
Renteria returned to the scene to talk with members of the Red Cross around 7:30 a.m.
“Right now I just came to get information on my parents,” she said. Her father was transported to Provena Mercy, where his condition was unknown.
Red Cross assists
The American Red Cross of the Greater Chicago Area was called out early Sunday morning to provide assistance to the fire victims. Josh Morton, Red Cross spokesman, said victims were being temporarily housed at a local church, and that the mood there was somber.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “Every fire is obviously different, but this one is extremely tragic.”
The Red Cross will help place victims at local hotels until they can find a permanent place to stay. Sunday evening, all the windows on the building were being boarded up, as it is uninhabitable, Lehman said.
Sunday evening, bags and bags of clothing had been brought to Iglesia Bautista Emanuel Baptist Church, which is next to the apartment building. Long tables were stacked with donated clothes. Volunteers at the church said they had enough clothes and toys but they needed toiletries.
The church was also collecting donations for the funerals of the victims. Donations can be dropped off at the church, where donors will receive a receipt. Donations can also be mailed to Emanuel Baptist Church, 742 Claim St, Aurora. In the memo section of the check, the donor should indicate the money is for the fire victims’ funerals.
East Aurora School District spokesman Clayton Muhammad said the district had identified all of the students who live at address of the fire. The school had no confirmation that any East Aurora students had been killed in the fire, but Muhammad said that undoubtedly the entire neighborhood will be affected by the fire in some way. The district’s crisis team will be available Monday to assist students.
Staff writer Matt Hanley contributed to this story.