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Generosity Lifts Spirits of Fatal Fire’s Survivors : Kindness: Both friends and strangers have helped the Salvadoran family members who survived a Santa Ana Christmas tree fire that killed two and injured two.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Survivors of a deadly Christmas tree fire that swept through their home, killing two family members and seriously injuring two others, said Wednesday their spirits have been lifted by the generosity of friends and strangers alike.

“Everyone is trying to help us,” said Rueben Ventura, the son of Pilar Sanchez Flores, the family’s 54-year-old matriarch who died in the fire.

Flores’ niece, Cristina Bonilla, added: “People are giving us whatever they can. . . .”

The fire flashed through the Salvadoran immigrant family’s Wilshire Avenue home Monday evening after faulty wiring ignited a dry Christmas tree. Flores was killed as she struggled to help a paraplegic son, Jose Cruz Nunez, 18, escape. Her 41-year-old nephew, Mario Humberto Marcenaro, died Tuesday. Eighteen other family members were left homeless.

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Nunez’s condition was upgraded from critical to serious at UCI Medical Center in Orange, a spokeswoman said. He suffered second- and third-degree burns over 15% of his body. Family members said Flores’ 14-year-old daughter, Maria Pilar Lopez, remained in serious condition at Western Medical Center--Santa Ana.

Since the fire, the survivors have gathered at the home of Flores’ eldest daughter to receive medical updates, make funeral arrangements and try to reorganize their lives. Almost all of their personal belongings--furniture, clothing, Christmas gifts--were lost in the fire.

Bonilla, 31, said the family is worried that Nunez, crippled since he was 12 years old, will require extensive medical care.

“We expect (the doctors) are going to keep him for a long time because he inhaled a lot of smoke,” she said.

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Bonilla said the adults in the family are also saddened that their children have needs that now cannot always be met.

“We see that they ask for something and we cannot give it,” she said. “More than anything else, what we need are clothes for the children. Because of the cold weather, they need socks and underwear and coats.”

The Orange County chapter of the Red Cross is assisting the family by providing lodging at a local motel, buying shoes and clothing and supplying vouchers for a one-week supply of groceries.

Red Cross spokeswoman Judy Iannaccone said the organization is also helping arrange and pay for funeral expenses.

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But support was also being organized by private citizens. Tustin resident Carol O’Hara, 22, said she and her family prepared to donate food and clothing to the survivors after hearing of the tragic fire.

“It touched me inside--especially around Christmas--it got me to thinking about how unimportant the (Christmas) presents are,” O’Hara said. “I think people should be helping others who have absolutely nothing.”

Ventura, 25, said the family also had received food from the nonprofit Living Harvest, an El Toro group that provides food to the needy.

Christmas baskets filled with food, diapers, toys, and baby clothes were also delivered by Maria Christina Burstein of the United Cerebral Palsy Assn.

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Burstein, a special educator in the group’s Infant Development Program, said that she has worked once a week with Ventura’s 5-month-old son for two months.

But Wednesday, she was also lending her support to the rest of the family. At one point, she acted as a translator on the telephone in an attempt to work out a problem with a federal agency.

“They are lovely people,” she said. “I have been crying all day.”

Donations for the survivors of Pilar Sanchez Flores can be sent to the Orange County chapter of the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 11364, Santa Ana 92711-1364 or by calling the Red Cross at (714) 835-5381.

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