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From ashes of a house fire comes woman's 'best Christmas'
By Jake Griffin | Daily Herald Staff

After a fire gutted her West Chicago townhouse more than two weeks ago, Rosemary Blau and her 12-year-old grandson, Logan Padilla, relax in her Warrenville apartment on Christmas Eve.

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

Rosemary Blau lost most of her possessions in the Dec. 6 fire at her West Chicago townhouse, but gained new faith in humanity.

 

Courtesy of Rosemary Blau

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Published: 12/25/2008 12:03 AM | Updated: 12/25/2008 7:04 AM

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Just two weeks ago, Rosemary Blau lost almost everything when a fire gutted her West Chicago townhouse.

And that's why she's declared this will be her best Christmas ever.

"I have two new grandchildren this year," she said. "My children are closer. My neighbors came out in the cold and provided us with coats, shoes and blankets. My friend Linda took care of me, driving me everywhere ... because both of my cars were damaged. I am just overwhelmed by the help and support anywhere I turned."

Blau raves about everything and everyone since the Dec. 6 blaze, even her insurance adjuster. Businesses have stepped forward to help, her co-workers at AT&T took on her workload while she was out, she's found a temporary apartment in Warrenville and her 12-year-old grandson is now a bona fide hero.

Amid the chaos of the fire, Blau's grandson, Logan Padilla, noticed Blau's ex-sister-in-law hadn't made it out of the townhouse. She has arthritis and has difficulty maneuvering staircases. Logan darted back into the burning townhouse to find her.

"The fire was coming up the walls to the top of the stairs where she was," he recalled. "I got to the top of the stairs and got her down four of them and Linda came in and helped her down the rest and we got out."

"I will never forget looking up that staircase," Blau added, "the flames right over the top of them."

The cherub-faced seventh-grader at St. Charles' Wredling Middle School is small for his age, which has always been a sore spot for him.

"He's no longer the little guy who gets picked on at school," Blau said. "He received a hero award from his school and is now very popular - especially with the girls."

Logan grins slyly when his grandmother talks about his newfound schoolhouse fame.

No one was injured in the blaze. Some of the folks inside the townhouse suffered smoke inhalation but recovered within hours. The West Chicago Fire Protection District still hasn't determined the cause but believes it might have been an electrical fire.

The lone casualty was Blau's banana bread project for U.S. troops serving in Iraq.

That started last year when she and her friends baked 100 loaves of banana bread to send to her nephew in Iraq, who distributes the goodies to fellow servicemen. This year, the group was going for 250 to 280 loaves, Blau said.

"I had bought all new appliance the month before and I had this convection oven that was just popping them out," she said. "We were going to go until 1 or 2 a.m."

They had baked 110 loaves when the fire broke out.

"We had just finished counting," she said.

During a break in the baking at around 4 p.m., Blau heard this thud in her house.

"It sounded like someone threw a metal football against the house," she said. "My initial reaction was to yell at the kids to find out what they had done."

Logan had heard the sound, too, and thought someone was setting off firecrackers. Then he saw smoke coming from the garage.

"He said the garage is on fire and I thought he was joking," Blau said. "But I saw it and went out there and opened the garage to move the car and it was just a small fire and then it just went from there."

Because of the cold weather and high winds, it took more than an hour to get the blaze under control.

Blau is remarkably optimistic about restocking her life.

"It's time to be a minimalist," she said. "I've realized I don't need all that stuff."

Blau said she's gotten her Christmas present already this year.

"How much better can the holiday be?" she said. "My Christmas lesson this year is, 'Wow! People really are good.'"