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Great Oaks fire victim identified

A fire at the Great Oaks apartment complex in southeast Rockford on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, left one woman dead and several apartments destroyed.
A fire at the Great Oaks apartment complex in southeast Rockford on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, left one woman dead and several apartments destroyed.(WIFR)
Published: Dec. 5, 2019 at 9:07 AM CST
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The Winnebago County Coroner's office identifies the woman killed in the Dec. 5 fire at the Great Oaks Apartments.

Tamera Adams, 60, was pronounced dead at 7:55 a.m.

Her preliminary cause of death is pending on further test results.

Adams' death is under investigation by the Cherry Valley Fire Department.

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A 60-year-old woman is dead following an apartment fire in a large complex on Rockford's southeast side.

"I actually saw a couple families throwing their children down from the balcony," says Steven Ruiz, who lives in the complex and escaped with his 4-year-old daughter and with his wife.

Cherry Valley Fire Chief Joe Corl says at least four people were rescued from balconies. One firefighter suffered minor burns.

Firefighters arrived on scene, shortly after 6:30 a.m. Thursday, to find flames and smoke shooting high into the sky from a building in the Great Oaks apartment complex off Linden Road.

"We just woke up, neighbors beating on the doors saying there was a fire," says Altino Griffith, who also lives in the apartments. "By the time we got out and looked around the corner, the middle part of the complex was really just engulfed in flames."

Several area departments joined Cherry Valley firefighters to get the blaze under control. The fire destroyed six of the apartments in the building and took a life.

"She was a good lady, she was always around, always talking to people," says Griffith, who explains he spoke to the woman who died regularly. "I mean you don't have a better neighbor than somebody that [converses] with you and let's you know what's going on with them. It's just a tragedy."

Many residents tell 23 News they tried to rescue the woman to no avail. They say the support of their community in those dire minutes is undeniable.

"If it wasn't for our neighbors beating on the door and us having a good community here we probably would have been still in there," says Griffith.

Ruiz says this is a time to reflect on what matters most. "Hug your loved ones because you never know when a tragic thing could happen. We never expected this, no one can expect this."

A gas leak broke out after the fire, prompting crews to shut off utilities. A cause is not known at this time.

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