Community mourns 78-year-old woman killed in 2-alarm fire in New Jersey

ELIZABETH, New Jersey (WABC) -- Friends and community members are mourning the loss of a 78-year-old woman who was killed after a fire broke out at a small house in New Jersey on Tuesday.

A two-alarm fire broke out at 852 Park Ave in Elizabeth, killing 78-year-old Damaryz Vazquez.

The community stood for hours, staring into a void of flashing lights and overwhelming loss.

A beloved mentor to generations of women.

"There's nobody like Damaryz. Nobody," Vazquez' friend Melissa Kulick said.

The flames engulfed the small house within minutes. By the time firefighters arrived, it was far too late for Vazquez.

She was a celebrated ballerina in her native Cuba and built a life and a dance school in Elizabeth.

"From the age of three to the age of 18, I danced with her," Kulick said. "She was the happiest soul I ever knew in my life. Very charismatic."

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Without Vazquez, Kulick wonders if she would have become a teacher or eventually a principal.

Vazquez would teach Kulick's daughters to dance and Melissa, to live.

"I owe a lot to her, I really do. She's a role model to so many young ladies, women, girls, everyone and I'm so fortunate that she was in my life. I'm blessed," she said.

More than 120,000 people live in Elizabeth. Mayor Chris Bollwage knew Vazquez.

"All of these people who are standing around, they've all known her too," Bollwage said.

"I would come through the house and go through the back and during COVID and just leave some food and bread for her, homemade, at least I have that," Vazquez' friend Teresa Pupo said.

In recent years, retired and widowed Vazquez lived alone.

But her neighbors, her adopted family, always tried to look out for her.

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Kulick hopes she made her proud.

"She would always say Melissa, nothing is worth sadness, nothing," sahe said. "Look at me, look at me, I'm standing and I'm fine. And she motivated me to not be afraid of anything."


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