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Families Flee Fires at Homes : Flames: Electrical shorts ignited blazes in Tustin and Westminster; one in Santa Ana was accidentally set by a child.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Three families fled for their lives Monday from separate fires that caused thousands of dollars in damage to their homes and minor injuries.

In Tustin, a family of four, in which a son was awakened by the smell of smoke from a long-smoldering fire, escaped in the early-morning darkness from its West Main Street duplex.

In Westminster, a retired couple were forced from their home late in the morning after an electrical short caused a blanket to catch fire in their bedroom.

And in Santa Ana, a 7-year-old playing with matches in a closet set a blaze about 11:15 a.m. that quickly tore through a three-bedroom house, destroying the interior, officials said.

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Elma Tobin’s family survived the closest call: the pre-dawn fire at their duplex in the 700 block of West Main in Tustin. Crying softly as she dug through the pile of ashes on the front lawn, Tobin said that one of her sons, 14-year-old Michael Short, woke up coughing and that roused her.

Unaware of the fire, she quieted him. Then, as she returned to her bedroom, she heard a cracking sound from the closet near the kitchen.

Opening it, she saw flames coming from the ceiling. She was unable to put out the blaze with wet towels and, as her son called 911, she and her husband pulled a garden hose into the house to battle the blaze.

Firefighters arrived shortly after that and had the blaze under control in about 15 minutes, said Maria Sabol of the Orange County Fire Department. They also rescued the family’s poodle, Myrtie.

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The 2:25 a.m. fire in the 1920-era home was ignited by an electrical short in a closet near a light bulb and caused about $100,000 in damage, said Sabol, adding it appeared the fire had been smoldering for several hours before it spread.

The fire burned into the duplex’s common attic, causing minor damage to the other side of the duplex, which was vacant. The duplex had a fire alarm, but it was placed on a book case, not on the ceiling as fire officials recommend, Sabol said.

Tobin, who was slightly injured in the fire, shook her head in disbelief at her burned home, eyeing the scorched pictures and other belongings mixed in with rubble from the roof and walls. The family will stay at the home of her husband’s father in Tustin while repairs are made on the house.

“This is the only thing I really want, the picture of the boys,” said Elma Tobin, as she sorted through photo albums and other debris on the front lawn.

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“We’re living day by day,” said Thomas Tobin, her husband.

In the Westminster fire, Richard Laubert Sr., 73, and Emma Laubert, 68, ran from their rented single-story home in the 5100 block of Vallecito Avenue about 11 a.m. after a fire scorched their bedroom.

Before firefighters arrived, a passerby, Greg Rosado, 35, of Huntington Beach, unsuccessfully tried to fight the fire by spraying it with water from a garden hose but was injured by heat from the blaze, Fire Capt. Craig Campbell said.

Rosado suffered burns on his face. Paramedics treated him at the scene, Campbell said.

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The fire began in the bedroom after an electrical short in an outlet spread to a bedspread. The flames consumed the bed and most of the bedroom; many of the other rooms in the three-bedroom house had smoke damage. Damage to the house was estimated to be $50,000.

The couple are staying with friends.

The Santa Ana fire broke out as Juana Rangel, 45, worked in the kitchen, and her grandchild--Carlita Alvarez, 7--played in the closet. Upstairs, her son-in-law, Juan Carlos Alvarez, 34, was painting a second-story rental room to prepare it for a new occupant.

“It’s a good thing we got out of there so quickly or we would have been crisp meat,” said Rangel of the blaze in the home at West McFadden Avenue and Fairview Street.

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Carlita alerted the family to the accidental blaze, when she began yelling: “Grandma, Grandma, the clothes are burning!” Rangel recalled.

Rangel grabbed the girl by the arm, pulling her outside as the flames began blowing out windows.

Once outside they called up to Alvarez, who hopped down a set of stairs outside the house and joined neighbor Joe Gutierrez, who was trying to extinguish the fire with a garden hose. “Since it was clothes burning, the flames just grew so fast,” Rangel said.

Fifteen firefighters worked for about 10 minutes to extinguish the fire, which caused an estimated $100,000 damage.

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Fire Department officials will interview Carlita to determine if she needs counseling about playing with matches, said Jimmy D. Dalton of the Santa Ana Fire Department.


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