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Holiday blaze destroys home

A family of six is suddenly homeless after a fire ripped through their south Modesto home.

Emergency workers woke Eneido Virgen, Rosalba Elizarraraz and four children, ranging in age from 6 to 17, at 5:16 a.m. Friday after police officers on patrol spotted the fire.

Firefighters said the officers, Brad Peterson and Michael Thomas, deserved credit for getting the family out of its Leon Avenue house safely.

"When we got there, the police department was on scene trying to wake the residents," Modesto Fire Department Battalion Chief Sean Slamon said Saturday. "The doors were all locked."

Virgen said his family wasn't aware anything was wrong until police started banging on the door.

Debbie Calcorte, emergency services manager for the American Red Cross, is working with the family. She said the police officers who spotted the fire are heroes.

"It was really pretty awesome, the chance of them driving by (at) that time of the morning," she said. "And the ambulance crew that responded was wonderful, keeping the family in the rig to keep them warm until I got there."

Slamon said a faulty fireplace flue apparently led to the blaze, which consumed the home's attic.

Virgen said the family had used the fireplace once before with no problems.

Virgen said his family had lived in the house for about six months. They were forced to move from their previous home when the landlord lost the house to foreclosure.

Slamon said it was lucky nobody was hurt.

"There was a partial roof collapse while we were in the process of making rescues," he said. "It landed on a bathroom wall, which prevented it from coming down to the floor."

Damage estimates were $125,000 to the structure and $25,000 in belongings.

Though the family lost nearly everything, public safety agencies pitched in to make sure the children got something for Christmas.

The Red Cross provided the family with vouchers for a motel stay, clothing and meals through Tuesday. Firefighters had already given out the toys they had collected for the holidays, so they contacted the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department. Deputies delivered some of their toys to the family later Friday.

Virgen and Elizarraraz returned to the house to see if they could salvage any clothes or other items, but there was nothing undamaged by fire, smoke or water. Firefighting foam covered the home's interior, and much of the furniture sat out on the lawn.

Virgen said it had been a tough year, with the forced move and the economy. A cabinet maker, he's had to take three weeks of furlough time because business has been slow.

Still, he said, he was happy his family was safe and together, even if it's in a couple of cramped hotel rooms.

"My kids are still mostly in shock," Virgen said. "We're trying to be calm for them."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or 578-2343.

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