HUMBOLDT PARK — Loved ones and neighbors are banding together to help a Humboldt Park family who lost everything in an extra-alarm fire over Labor Day weekend.
The fire broke out in a three-story apartment building at 3226 W. Augusta Boulevard just after 3 a.m. Aug. 31.
No one was seriously hurt in the blaze, but the damage displaced at least 20 people, according to authorities.
Among them is Ashley Brito, her husband, Juan, and their two young children, Saniya and Avery, ages 4 and 2, respectively.
They were asleep in their third-floor apartment when their building caught fire.
Ashley Brito said she woke up to an unusual smell and commotion coming from downstairs. She woke up her husband and the two of them rushed to the kitchen window, where they saw sparks flying from the back porch.
At first, the couple thought it could’ve been fireworks, but once they opened the back door and saw flames traveling up their porch, they quickly grabbed their children and headed for the door.
“I ran down in pitch black smoke. To do it with our children, it was insane,” Ashley Brito said.
The Brito family escaped unharmed, as did most of the residents. Two residents were sent to Norwegian Hospital and treated for smoke inhalation. One firefighter was also sent to the hospital with minor injuries.
The Brito family’s apartment of five years, along with other apartments in the three impacted buildings, were destroyed, however.
Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Merritt said on Monday the fire was caused by an unattended candle. Ashley Brito said fire officials told her it was caused by faulty electrical wiring in the basement, but Merritt said there was no indication that was the case.
Juan Brito’s brother, Luis, and his fiance, Mariela, launched an online fundraiser with a goal of $20,000 to get Ashley, Juan and their kids back on their feet.
As of late Monday afternoon, the campaign had raised $1,460.
“I’m the younger brother and he’s always taken care of me since I was a kid. They’ve always been there for me. I feel like in a moment like this, it’s my time to step in and show them I can also step up,” Luis Brito said.
Ashley Brito, a stay-at-home mom, said she’s still coping with the tremendous loss.
“My daughter is asking for her toys, her favorite teddy bear, her favorite blanket. I’m speechless. I didn’t have the heart to say it’s gone,” she said.
The Brito family is also faced with what they describe as an insurmountable task: Finding another affordable four-bedroom apartment in the gentrifying neighborhood.
“Everything in [Humboldt Park], even just a two-bedroom, is over $1,400. That’s mind-blowing to me,” Ashley Brito said.
“And they’re not the perfect apartments. They’re literally broken down.”
For the time being, the family is staying with Ashley Brito’s mother at Armitage and Kostner avenues.
Ashley Brito is originally from the Hermosa area, while Juan Brito’s family has called Humboldt Park home for decades.
It’s important they stay in the area because their 4-year-old daughter, Saniya, just started school at Brentano Elementary, Ashley Brito said.
“If I want to stay in Chicago, I really need to expand [my search] … to the South Side or possibly a suburb to get a cheaper apartment,” she said. “I really didn’t want to take Saniya out of school. She just started her first year of preschool.”
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