A woman and her infant daughter were in critical condition Wednesday after escaping a deadly fire in south Merced earlier this week.
Merced City Fire Capt. Billy Alcorn said the 28-year-old woman and her year-old girl were listed in “critical but stable condition” at the burn unit at Fresno Regional Medical Center. Initial reports indicated the woman had sustained some smoke inhalation. She and the child were transported from Mercy Medical Center Merced to Fresno on Tuesday.
The pair survived the fire Tuesday morning that claimed the lives of the woman’s 31-year-old husband, Ignacio Figueroa-Bautista, 5-year-old daughter, Geraldine Figueroa-Perez, and 5-year-old nephew, Jesus Perez-Manzo. The Merced County Coroner’s office on Wednesday confirmed the names of the three who died in the fire. Authorities have not released the names of the mother and infant.
Flames sparked some time after midnight in the living room of their unit of a duplex at 264 E. 10th St. in Merced. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
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“What a wonderful, lovely man he (Figueroa-Bautista) was, going back into the house to save the lives of children,” said Tara Bright, principal of Don Stowell Elementary School, where the two children attended kindergarten.
Witnesses said Figueroa-Bautista had escaped the fire with the mother and infant by climbing out a window, but he immediately scrambled back through the same window when he realized his other daughter and nephew were still inside. All three died in the burning structure.
The unit the family occupied in the duplex has been called a total loss, with damages estimated at $42,000, according to firefighters.
The mother and baby were taken to the hospital in Fresno. On Wednesday, fire investigators were unable to speak with the mother because of the serious nature of her injuries, Alcorn said.
School officials on Wednesday described Geraldine and Jesus as “cousins” and said they attended different kindergarten classes at the elementary school, two blocks away from the scene of the fire that claimed their lives. The school sent letters home with all 520 prekindergarten to fifth-grade students alerting other parents to the tragedy.
“The letter contained some tips on helping children cope with grief,” Bright said.
Crisis counselors were on campus Wednesday, helping students come to terms with the sudden loss. Some teachers led classroom discussions about the tragedy. Bright said counselors will continue to be available to students for “as long as they’re needed.”
“They’ve been very busy working with the kids,” Bright said. “Some children have been able to process this more thoroughly than others.”
Bright led efforts Wednesday to establish a memorial fund for the family.
“She (the mother) has lost almost everything,” Bright said. “It’s such a horrible tragedy.”
School officials confirmed reports that the 5-year-old boy, Jesus, had essentially been adopted by Figueroa-Bautista and his wife about five months ago.
“Yes, his biological mother had died around that time, and he was taken in by his biological mom’s sister,” Bright said. “The poor woman just lost her sister and has been raising the little boy, and now she has to pay for three funerals — it’s just horrible.”
The Geraldine and Jesus Perez Memorial Fund has been established at the Educational Employees Credit Union in Merced, a bank official confirmed. To donate, visit the bank directly at 127 W. El Portal Drive or call (800) 538-3328.