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Seeley school lends a helping hand to burn victims

January 07, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer
  • Rebecca Juarez is shown with her children (from front, clockwise), Aaron, 5; Thomas, 9; Joseph, 12; and Joshua, 1. FAMILY PHOTO
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SEELEY — A child's dirt bike with training wheels attached sits in the middle of the yard just beyond the burned remains of the tiny two-bedroom house.

A rusted, aging car rests just beyond the yard — stickers on the bumper read "Proud Parent of an Accelerated Reader."

The house at 1918 Mount Signal Ave. is quiet. While the structure stands, little remains inside other than charred remains of toys and furniture.

There are, however, signs of struggle.

Children's handprints against the blackened remains of a door provide a hint of the terror that faced Rebecca Juarez and three of her children as they fought to escape their burning home on New Year's day.

Juarez managed to get her children and herself out of the blaze, but not before all were burned.

This morning Juarez and her 9-year-old son were in critical condition at the University of California San Diego Medical Center burn unit. Juarez's 5-year-old son has been upgraded to serious condition and the 1-year-old has been upgraded to fair condition.

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A fourth son, age 12, was not home at the time of the fire. He is staying with family in Seeley.

Today, the Seeley Union Elementary School District is starting an effort to obtain clothing, toys and other items for the Juarez family.

School officials are asking the Imperial Valley to give what it can to a family that lost all its possessions in a fire that started when Christmas lights were plugged in on a drying Christmas tree.

The fire moved swiftly through the living room, destroying nearly everything in its path as it moved into the kitchen.

Along with critically injuring the family, the fire left a family dog and two cats dead. Another cat is missing.

"Imagine the horror they went through to get out of the house," said Jon LeDoux, principal of the Seeley school, who together with third-grade teacher Monica Galindo, is organizing the district's effort to collect donations for the family.

Galindo said she wanted to start a collection as soon as she learned of the fire.

"I was sad — very upset because I knew the children were hurt and I knew what the mother had to go through to get the children out of the house," she said.

The collection effort will continue through the week.

District officials are asking for the community to donate new or nearly new items. They said the children lost all their toys and clothing in the fire.

For those who wish to donate clothes the children are sizes 4T, 5-6, 12-14 and 16-18.

LeDoux said district officials want to collect items to help Juarez and her children when they return to the community.

He added, "It's going to be a long road to get them back on their feet."

Galindo, the teacher for the 9-year-old, said the boy enjoys reading to his 5-year-old brother. She said if people have books they could donate, it would be appreciated.

She added, "I'm hoping the stores will come in and donate toys because they just lost everything from Christmas."

On Friday, as LeDoux and Galindo were interviewed, Rebecca Juarez's sister Janet Baxter, a Seeley resident, agreed to be interviewed.

While trying unsuccessfully to hold back tears, she talked about her sister and nephews and how the fire has changed their lives.

She identified the children.

The 9-year-old is Thomas Juarez, the 5-year-old, Aaron Juarez Morris, the 1-year-old, Joshua Juarez Morris and the uninjured 12-year-old is Joseph Juarez.

She said her sister and Thomas are "very" critical. Aaron and Joshua are critical but stable.

"They are all so special," Baxter said at the school district office.

She added of her sister, "She is a single mom and she doesn't have a lot but her family and her children."

Baxter later allowed a reporter and photographer into the burned ruins of the house her sister rented.

The house had been modest. There is a small living room crowded with charred furniture, a kitchen and two bedrooms. Juarez shared one room with her 5- and 1-year-olds. The older boys had a bunk bed in the second room.

The heaviest damage occurred in the living room where the Christmas tree was located. The tree's branches are gone but the burned trunk is still standing.

The door leading outside from the living room is smashed in a bit where firefighters struck it to try to gain access to the fire.

According to earlier reports from the Imperial County Fire Department, the family members were unable to get out through the back door, so they had to go out through the front door, which was near the Christmas tree.

However, Baxter said her sister did get out of the house through the back door, which leads outside from the kitchen. That door has the handprints from the children.

A county firefighter said he was unsure how the family escaped the fire.

The firefighter said when he got on scene, the mother and her children were sitting on the steps of a wooden shed near the kitchen door.

The firefighter said the woman and the children were all burned "pretty bad."

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