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3 Injured When Christmas Tree Ignites : Sylmar: A 3-year-old boy remains in critical condition. Officials warn of dangers from dry, brittle boughs in homes.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 3-year-old boy was in critical condition and his mother and brother suffered serious burns Thursday after one of the boys apparently ignited the family Christmas tree, sparking a fire that engulfed their Sylmar home, authorities said.

Shawn Johnson, 27, and her son, Denton, 4, were in stable condition at Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills while her younger son, Lance, 3, was in critical condition at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, police and fire officials said.

The blaze--the third fire ignited by a Christmas tree in the Los Angeles area this past week--prompted fire officials to issue a warning on the dangers of keeping dry, brittle Christmas trees in a home.

“At this time of year, Christmas trees, while beautiful, are a volatile danger,” Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Gary Jenkins said as he stood in front of the charred house. He urged residents to recycle Christmas trees before they become fuel for more home fires.

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A 3-year-old Wilmington boy and a 16-month-old Compton girl were killed and two other children and two adults were seriously burned in two separate fires in the past week that fire officials believe were fueled by Christmas trees.

The Sylmar blaze, which started just before 9 a.m. at the white, single-story stucco home in the 13000 block of Gridley Street, apparently started when Johnson’s older son, Denton, began playing with a lit candle near the tree, according to fire officials and neighbors who talked to Johnson.

Delia Albidrez, who lives across the street from Johnson, said she came out of her home to the sound of Johnson’s cries for help. Johnson had burned her arms, back and head while pulling her oldest son from the burning house, Albidrez said. The son she rescued also was burned, but not seriously, the neighbor said. Flames quickly engulfed the home, making it impossible for Johnson to re-enter the building to find her 3-year-old, Albidrez said.

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Albidrez’s daughter, Patricia, said she heard Johnson say: “I tried to get in to get my other son, but it was too hot.”

Firefighters arrived a few minutes later and as they fought the fire entered the home searching for Johnson’s youngest son, Jenkins said. They found the boy in a closet, unconscious and not breathing, he said.

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They performed CPR on the boy in front of the house, and then rushed him to Los Angeles County Olive View/UCLA Medical Center, Jenkins said.

Once the boy’s condition had stabilized, he was transferred to Northridge Hospital Medical Center, where he is being treated for smoke inhalation.

The fire was extinguished in about 15 minutes, Jenkins said.

The boy’s rescue drew praise for firefighters from neighbors and police.

“From what my officers tell me, and from neighbors, the firefighters had no regard for their own safety,” said Los Angeles Police Sgt. Lee Allen of the Foothill Division. “If this boy lives, it’s because of them.”

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The fire caused about $100,000 of damage to the home that the family had been renting for about two weeks. The home had no smoke detector, Jenkins said.

The fire charred the front living room and an adjoining kitchen and hall. The heat from the blaze was so intense it melted the window screens on the front of the house. Whatever furniture was in the living room was turned into a black, wet mess that firefighters shoveled out onto the front porch.

The burned Christmas tree--only a blackened trunk protruding from a melted stand--was placed on the front lawn of the house, where Jenkins held an impromptu news conference to urge residents to install smoke detectors and get rid of dry Christmas trees before they become a fire hazard.

He suggested residents call toll-free (800) 773-2489 to get the location of the nearest tree recycling center.

Times staff writer Chip Johnson contributed to this story.


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