DERBY -- A 48-year-old woman was found dead in her apartment Sunday morning after flames engulfed a multi-family apartment complex near the center of town, fire officials confirmed.
Nilda Ruiz of 204 Derby Ave. was found in her 3rd floor apartment of the six- unit complex after firefighters extinguished the fire around 11:00 a.m. Sunday.
The fire started shortly before 7 a.m., and upon arrival, firefighters reported the structure engulfed in flames.
"There was heavy fire showing from the rear of the building," said Derby Fire chief Kurt Kemmesies.
Firefighters said they originally came to that location for a car accident in front of the home, but then discovered the fire.
The investigation was taken over by the state’s Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit on Sunday afternoon, according to Derby Police Lt. Justin Stanko. He said that about 20 people lived in the six-unit complex, with all but Ruiz making out safely.
A cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
Nilda Ruiz, known as "Janet" to close family members.
Ruiz was a mother of four children and a cancer survivor. Her family says she wasn't working due to her illness, but while her cancer was in remission, she was disabled.
Ruiz had moved to Derby about six months month ago from Lynn, Massachusetts to be closer to her mother and sister, Rosalie Ruiz, who lived in an apartment complex next door to the burned complex.
Rosalie Ruiz told Fox Connecticut she heard what sounded like an explosion and ran out of her apartment Sunday morning.
"I ran outside to try to help her, there's nothing I can do, started screaming that's my sister in there," Ruiz said.
Several of Ruiz’s family members came from Massachusetts, where Ruiz was originally from, and remained on-scene by the burned complex all-day.
"She's a sweetheart. This shouldn't have happened to her," said Delia Cruz, Ruiz's sister-in-law.
Edgardo Ruiz and his wife Tina drove three hours from Fitchburg, Massachusetts after a receiving a call notifying them of their sister's death around 9:30 a.m.
"You get the phone call and think everything is okay, but the conversation on the other end isn't what you're expecting to here. It's so unreal," said Ruiz.
The State Police detectives arrived on the scene at 8:00 a.m. and the The Office of the Chief State’s Medical Examiner also responded and will determine Ruiz’s cause of death.
Four families are also currently displaced and a few animals also died in the fire, according to police.
The American Red Cross offered help all the displaced residents.
Many believed the fire could have killed other residents, if not for an alert neighbor.
"A guy who was going to work saw the flames and the smoke, and stopped the car and called 911 and started banging on all doors," said Rosalie Ruiz.
A woman who lived on the first floor with her son, his two grandchildren and two nephews said she likely would have been unable to escaped the fire if this man did not bang on her door.
Ruiz agrees this neighbor prevented a bigger tragedy.
"It wouldn't have been one death, it would have been more ," Ruiz said.
The Office of the Chief State’s Medical Examiner also responded and will conduct a post-mortem examination to determine cause of death.
State Police Detectives from the FEIU are continuing their fire investigation, working with the Derby Fire Marshal to determine the cause and origin of the fire.