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updated: 5/8/2014 3:11 PM

Groups working to help families displaced by Woodridge fire

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  • Video: Relief for fire victims

  • Ruthstar Owusu gets a hug from Debbi White, left, of the Woodridge Jaycees. Eleven families, including Owusu's,   were left homeless after a May 1 apartment fire in Woodridge. Several community groups were on hand Wednesday to provide food, clothing and financial assistance.

       Ruthstar Owusu gets a hug from Debbi White, left, of the Woodridge Jaycees. Eleven families, including Owusu's, were left homeless after a May 1 apartment fire in Woodridge. Several community groups were on hand Wednesday to provide food, clothing and financial assistance.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Haroon Baki stands in a bedroom of his apartment nearly a week after a May 1 fire in Woodridge. He owns half the building and lived there.

       Haroon Baki stands in a bedroom of his apartment nearly a week after a May 1 fire in Woodridge. He owns half the building and lived there.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Haroon Baki stands in what remains of his living room nearly a week after a May 1 fire in Woodridge.

       Haroon Baki stands in what remains of his living room nearly a week after a May 1 fire in Woodridge.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Eleven families were left homeless after a May 1 fire in Woodridge. Various community groups were on hand Wednesday to provide food, clothing and financial assistance. Debbi White with the Woodridge Jaycees, left, adds more clothes.

       Eleven families were left homeless after a May 1 fire in Woodridge. Various community groups were on hand Wednesday to provide food, clothing and financial assistance. Debbi White with the Woodridge Jaycees, left, adds more clothes.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 

A week after the Woodridge apartment building she called home was destroyed by a fire that started on her balcony, Ruthstar Owusu is struggling with what happened.

Owusu says she doesn't know what went wrong last Thursday when she was frying fish on a gas grill on the second-floor balcony.

"I left for a couple of minutes," she said. "My mom was in the kitchen. The last thing I knew is she was just calling me, yelling on top of her voice."

When she saw the flames, Owusu knew her only option was to dial 911 and start pounding on neighbors' doors to urge them to get out.

Most of the 11 families who lived in the three-story building along Woodward Avenue weren't home at 11:14 a.m. when the Darien-Woodridge Fire Protection District responded to the call.

Owusu said she thanks God no one was injured.

"We have our life," she said. "That is the most important thing."

The fire took almost everything else. All the families were left homeless.

"None of them had insurance and everybody lost everything," said Debbi White, who is one of the managers of the apartment complex. She also is a member of the Woodridge Jaycees.

On Wednesday afternoon, representatives from the Jaycees, churches and other community groups met with the displaced families to give them food, toiletries, gift cards, clothes and other items donated by area residents and businesses.

The meeting, which happened in the parking in front of the burned out building, was designed to provide some immediate relief to the victims.

"I really want these families to feel like they're not alone," White said. "I want them to know that the community is outpouring with support. We're going to help them get through this."

Noble Darkwah, who was home when the fire started, said he fled the building with his 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. He had nothing more than his cellphone and the clothes he was wearing.

His family currently is staying at a relative's house in Bolingbrook.

"We wish we had our own place to live," he said, "but right now, we have no choice."

Part of the reason the families lost so much is because of how fast the fire moved.

Wind conditions helped the blaze spread from Owusu's balcony to another wooden balcony directly above it, fire officials said.

Deputy Chief Steven Gorsky said it didn't take long for the flames to reach the attic.

"From there, the fire ran the length of the attic and the roof got burned off the place," Gorsky said.

So even though firefighters arrived at the scene within minutes and called in extra help from other departments, crews battling the blaze inside had to evacuate and do a strictly defensive fire attack from the outside.

"This building was a loser when we pulled out of the barn," said Gorsky. He said damage is estimated around $1.5 million.

The residents didn't have insurance to cover their losses.

Even Haroon Baki, who owns half the building, said his insurance will only pay for the loss of the structure. His furniture, computer and other belongings weren't insured.

Despite his losses, Baki said he's more concerned about his former tenants.

"I cry for them," he said. "They are really good people."

Members of the Woodridge Jaycees were planning to gather information from the families to determine their specific needs.

The group is going to sponsor a spaghetti dinner on June 7 at Zero Gravity in Naperville to help raise money.

"At the end of the day," White said, "I really want to be able to hand every family a check after our event and say, 'Here. We are so sorry for what you are going through. We hope this can help you start over.'"

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