The leaf fire on Kenilworth last Saturday destroyed a Nissan.
It incinerated children’s clothes. A new winter coat.
It melted a laptop. And a baby’s car seat.
It also took Cynthia Moretti’s favorite caregiver away from her. At least for now.
Moretti, 31, has cerebral palsy and quadriplegia. Because she does everything with her head – types, maneuvers her chair — she needs near round-the-clock care.
Veronica Garcia, or Vero as Moretti and her family affectionately call her, is Moretti’s caregiver. She was at Moretti’s house last Saturday to take her to get her power chair fixed. Afterward, she’d planned to do laundry, so she stacked baskets of clothes for her and her sons in the backseat.
From the house, Moretti, Garcia and Moretti’s sister, Elizabeth Lenzo, could see smoke rising near the car. It didn’t make sense to them. Could something be wrong with the car?
There wasn’t. According to Oak Park officials, the Nissan’s catalytic converter was likely still so hot that it ignited the leaves it was parked on.
Within minutes, all of it – the car, the belongings, mementos — were gone.
“We could hear popping noises, explosions. Smoke was billowing and fire was going up in the sky,” Lenzo said. “It was like a movie.”
Garcia tried to run to the car to move it or get her belongings, but Lenzo pulled her back. “You can replace things. We can’t replace you,” Lenzo said she told her.
But it was all that Garcia had.
That’s why Moretti started a GoFundMe campaign for her caregiver. Garcia, a young, single mother with an 8-year-old and a 1-year-old, works three jobs to get by.
The fire took nearly all of the family’s clothes and the car seat. It destroyed her laptop, the one she used to try, little by little, to get a degree to become a social worker.
Money was so tight she had just let her car insurance lapse.
“She’s just a good, good person who fell on some hard times,” said Candice Moretti, Cynthia’s grandmother.
Garcia would walk Moretti around Oak Park, noshing at Yolk. They loved movies. They had fun. What young women don’t like to have fun?
“She treats people like people,” Lenzo said. “She keeps it real.”
That’s what was most important to Moretti. The thirtysomething is smart, Lenzo said, and wanted to be treated as an equal – and should be. Garcia understood that.
So Moretti was distraught.
“My granddaughter is crazy about her. She loves her,” Candice Moretti said.
Garcia does not have a second car and isn’t sure how she’ll replace hers. Ubers are expensive and what little money she has left is spent on figuring out how to get to her other jobs and to get the baby to daycare. Because she lives near Midway, she’s had to give up her job caring for Moretti.
“I miss her so much I want her come back to work soon,” Moretti wrote on the GoFundMe listing.
Lenzo said it’s not clear what the next steps will be. But they’re all fighting for Garcia, she said.
Garcia still owes about $21,000 on the car. The insurance company has been paid, but it’s likely too late.
“My hope is that she has a car soon, something that’s safe for her and her kids and can get to work in,” she said. “And my hope is that she gets a replacement laptop so she can go to school.”