The Aurora Fire Department says the fire started on the first floor, and then quickly spread to the second and third floors of a three-story wood frame apartment building. The fire was reported at about 4 a.m. Sunday at 760 Claim Street, which is near Fox River and the Aurora Metra station.
It is still unclear what sparked the fire that claimed six lives and injured 12 others. Investigators say there were eight to 10 people living in the first floor, two-bedroom unit where the fire started. They also added that firefighters were called only after the occupants of that apartment tried to put out the fire with a garden hose and could not.
While officials say those killed include two women and a man in their 30s and 40s, along with three boys --- ages 9, 6, and 8-months-old -- a relative says four of the six who died were members of the same family. He identifies them as Francisco Marcos, his wife Micaela Perez and their children Jose Marcos and Francisco Marco, Jr. A third son, Teodoro, managed to escape and remains hospitalized.
Aurora's Director of Public Information Dan Ferrelli said the building was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived on the scene, causing crews to have to rescue several people.
"The hallway acted as a chimney and the fire was able to race through the hallway, trapping those victims in their apartments," said Aurora Fire Department Assistant Chief John Lehman.
Some escaped the burning building on their own.
"My heart started rushing to get my son out first and then me. I gave him to his dad so he could go out first. I just told his dad to get a blanket and wrap it around while I took the screen out," fire victim Elva Renteria said.
Aurora officials say anywhere from 35 to 40 people lived in the building's 10 units. The building's owner Jose Ayala says the property was last inspected in December and that "everything was in order." City records, however, show something different.
"The last city inspection that it underwent was in June of 2010. There were some non-life safety violations that were found at that time," Ferrelli said.
Firefighters did find working smoke detectors in the building's common areas. The Illinois State Fire Marshall joined the investigation as local officials looked at surveillance video captured by security cameras from a nearby grocery store.
"We might be able to see a little bit, there's some footage that might be captured," said grocery store owner Martina Cardenas.
Investigators are still trying to determine if there were working smoke detectors in each individual unit. Several people still remain hospitalized late Sunday, including a 2-year-old girl who is in critical condition at an area hospital's burn unit.
The Red Cross and a nearby church was helping victims Sunday night, but on everyone's minds were on the three children who died.
"We are in a community that has a lot of challenges, and for something like this to happen, it's even more devastating. We just want to reach out to the families and say that we're with them," said Pastor Oscar Velasquez.
The fire department is calling this one of the worst fire tragedies in Aurora's recent history.