Column: Fatal fire scene draws the curious and the compassionate to Aurora
By Denise Crosby email@example.com May 16, 2011 5:34PM
Updated: September 29, 2011 12:36AM
Rosa Huerta couldn’t really give a reason why she had to be there.
She showed up at the scene of the fatal fire on Claim Street in Aurora when she got off work on Sunday. Then, after dropping her two children at school, Huerta returned first thing Monday, leaving her post only twice: to grab some breakfast and pick up the kindergartner later in the morning.
She was still there well into the afternoon, bypassing lunch to stare up at the blackened and boarded windows of the three-floor stucco apartment building.
From there, her eyes fell on the six crosses now planted out front, decorated with balloons, candles, toys — and identifying those who had died from the blaze.
“Things like this, I just can’t stop thinking about them,” said Huerta. “I guess I just have so much compassion. My heart is so sensitive.”
Huerta is a professional caregiver. She’s a wife and mother. So there are many reasons she can’t help but dwell on the chaos that must have followed after the fire broke out. How did the families try to escape? she wondered. Did instinct take over, or did they have no time to react?
And she asked herself a hundred times the same question: What would she have done if a fire took over her own apartment a couple blocks over on Jefferson Street?
Would she have awakened in time to save her family? Would she have thrown the kids out the second floor bedroom window, knowing the fall could seriously injure or even kill them? Would she have taken a chance of shimmying down an electrical cord like it was reported one man did Sunday morning?
Finding answers is what lots of people were looking for on Claim Street the day after the fire. First responders and inspectors had already done their job, leaving just one squad car there to make sure residents didn’t try to re-enter the building; and to keep order as the media and the curious staked out ground around the tragic scene.
Sunday was worse, I was told. With a steady stream of cars rolling by, men, women and children milled about, chattering furiously while small children played underfoot.
Many said they came to see the death scene for themselves, to pick up any details and to drop off donations for the displaced residents at the church a couple doors over.
There were others, like Huerta, just trying to process the tragedy.
Former firefighter Jim Atwell drove more than an hour from Round Lake after reading about it in the newspaper.
“I was a fireman for 32 years, and I’ve never seen this many (deaths),” he told one of the reporters. “It’s always sad when people die, but especially sad when it is young kids.”
When Gabriela Suarez heard that an 8-month-old baby’s name had been scrawled on the cross closest to the street, she went home to get her rosary. Then she fell on her knees in front of the baby’s memorial and invited those around her to pray.
At least three dozen joined her.
“Some of them didn’t know the words,” said Suarez. “It didn’t matter.”
For sure, when the unspeakable occurs, it just helps to be there.