Sylmar fire deaths: Counseling offered at children’s school

A Catholic school attended by two children who died with their parents in a Sylmar fire informed students of the tragedy Monday and sent letters home offering grief counseling, officials said.

The four family members were found unresponsive by firefighters in the 4:37 a.m. blaze in the 13700 block of Eldridge Avenue.

The father -- identified by family and friends as Uriel Estrada, 41 -- was found just a few feet from the front door, and his children and wife were huddled nearby, Los Angeles Fire Capt. Jaime Moore said.

Family members at the scene identified the mother as Maria Alicia Estrada and the children as Isabel, 12, and Alex, 8.


In a letter to parents Monday, Santa Rosa Bishop Alemany School offered grief counseling to students.

“It is with deep regret and sympathy that we inform you of the tragic deaths that occurred last night in the Estrada family. Both children, Isabel in seventh grade and Alejandro in second grade, and both parents, Uriel and Maria, lost their lives due to a fire in their home,” wrote Fr. Stan Zowada and school Director Rose Kennedy.

“Such a tragedy impacts our school family. We are concerned for the loss your children have experienced. The school had a crisis team from the city of Los Angeles, along with counselors from Alemany High School, on site today to help the teachers with communicating to the students the tragedy that took place.”

According to the letter, students in grades one through eight were told directly by their teacher.

“When senseless tragedy occurs, we turn to our Catholic faith to help support us. Please keep the Estrada family, and the entire Santa Rosa/Bishop Alemany School Community, in your prayers,” they added.

Laura Campo said the father of her 4-year-old is a renter in the house and tried to get to the family as the fire raged through the second floor of the barn.

“He tried to break down the door and windows to help rescue the children,” Campo said. “But he said he didn’t have enough strength.”

Moore said firefighters had to kick down the wooden front door, which also had a security door that was unlocked. Firefighters who went inside reported smoke down to their waists, he added.

The fire appeared to have broken out at the top of the barn but did not spread to an attached work shed.

The two-story “metal-clad, barn-like” building was permitted for residential use but lacked smoke detectors, Moore said. Investigators are looking into whether any illegal work had been performed over the years.

It is one of two structures on the two-acre parcel and sits behind a long single-story home. Both buildings are rented out, Moore said.

A cousin of the mother, Norma Cruz, 52, said the close-knit family had recently moved into the barn building and were excited to be living in a relatively safe area.

Mariah Hernandez, 20, a cousin of the children, said she was having a hard time grappling with the sudden tragedy.

“It’s hard to think they’re not with us now,” she said. “It’s almost as if they moved away together.”

Twitter: @lacrimes| Google+