Woman Who Escaped Massive Multi-House Fire Dies After Going Back Inside to Save Her Dog

Woman Who Escaped Massive Multi-House Fire Dies After Going Back Inside to Save Her Dog

The massive fire got at least 40 people displaced from their homes. There was only one casualty.

Image Source: Getty Images/ (representative)

A woman from New Jersey was killed in a massive house fire over the weekend.  Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale confirmed to PEOPLE that there was only one victim from Sunday morning's blaze. She was identified as Felicia Hernandez De La Cruz, a 53-year-old woman from Paterson. Speziale, who was at the scene of the incident, said witnesses informed him that De La Cruz initially made it out of the fire on her own. But, she soon realized that her beloved pet was still inside, and so she went back in to rescue her dog. 




Unfortunately, the New Jersey resident never made it out alive and her body was recovered a few hours after the flames had been put out, the police director says. "She and her family are in our thoughts and prayers," the police chief tells PEOPLE. "She's a Patersonian, so she's part of our family and it's extremely difficult." The huge fire is said to have broken out around 2:30 am on Sunday morning at Summer Street, causing two wood-structure homes to be completely engulfed by the flames. According to Speziale, the initial call came as a second-alarm fire. However, the blaze was so intense that it quickly worked its way up to a third, fourth, and fifth alarm.




According to Red Truck Fire, these numerical alarms indicate the level of danger and the amount of crew that needs to respond to. As a result of the alarm, hundreds of firefighters, even from nearby departments, turned up at the scene in a bid to douse the fire that had raged on. The fire spread to three other homes, damaging them completely in the process.  While authorities worked tirelessly to put out the fire, they found out that De La Cruz had been missing since going back into her home to save her dog, Speziale explains. Unfortunately, around 10:30 am that morning,  fire excavation crews, who went back to the extinguished site, recovered the woman's body.




While only De La Cruz lost her life in the severe fire, two firefighters suffered minor injuries in the blaze. The firefighters were treated for non-life-threatening burns at Saint Barnabas Hospital in Livingston. One of them had burns on their hand, while the other suffered burns to the side of their face. The rather massive fire displaced a total of nine families, consisting of approximately 40 people, from their homes. Speziale called De La Cruz's passing a "tragic, terrible loss," but he made sure to commend the responding fire departments for their quick actions, which most prevented fatalities and injuries. 




"The men and women of Paterson police and fire department are an extraordinary group of talented individuals," he says. "They are truly dedicated to the welfare, life and safety of our residences. Police officers, police lieutenants, sergeants captains, fire chiefs, myself, everybody was on scene and we had mutual aid from surrounding towns within moments," Speziale continues. "The response was exemplary. They did a hell of a job in battling a very difficult fire, [especially with] 40 people that could've perished." It is unclear as to what caused the fire, but an investigation is underway by the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office and the Paterson Fire Department.




In other news, a 70-year-old veteran became a local hero after he helped a family escape their burning home last month. Marshall Helm was walking his granddaughter to the bus stop in Salem, Illinois when he was alerted about a burning house by a bus driver, we reported earlier. He quickly sprung to action and ran to the side of the garage and opened a door, only to see the flames had already climbed a wall. He then realized he had enough space to walk past the blaze and so he did - running into the house to alert his neighbors who were still asleep. Gary and Kathy Benjamin, the owners of the house, were still in bed when the incident occurred and they were awoken by the sound of Helm's constant shouting. They managed to escape through the backdoor.

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