Thursday's early morning fire in Lowell took place in the heart of the Cambodian community, which has the highest concentration of that immigrant population in the eastern part of the U.S.
The four adults and three children who died in the fire are believed to be Cambodian. Throughout the day on Thursday, neighbors and friends gathered behind the yellow police tape to watch fire fighters put out the smoking embers.
Jacqueline Khounesavath lives across the street.
"I’m shocked. I’ve never been that close to a big fire," she said. "My dad was awake and he woke me up to come out. I saw all the families out front. All you see is the fire spreading. It wouldn’t stop. Families didn’t know what to do; just stood there.”
“Lowell has been having more fires lately. I think that what’s happening now is that landlord’s aren’t doing their jobs. 7 people lost their lives. To me that’s very sad and I think this is ridiculous,” Gonyea said.
Some recent fires have been in the city’s old mill buildings, and in here, fire officials said they are still investigating the smoke detectors in each apartment. Another neighbor, Arthur, said he moved because his apartment building was falling apart.
“Lowell needs to crack down more on code violations especially with fire safety,” he said.
The city’s emergency management team and Lowell General Hospital say they’re working with the Red Cross to provide relief services, including grief counseling. And the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association is scrambling to help coordinate transportation to shelters and clinics, according to president Bopha Malone.
“We want to be able to help them connect these people as soon as possible and provide any services, translation, help to get there, things like that, anything that we can do,” Malone said.
At least one candle and incense vigil for the victims will take place from the commercial district in the heart of the Cambodian neighborhood to the burned building.