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COSTA MESA : Change of Plan Saves Family From Flames

December 25, 1991|DAVID REYES and ERIC LICHTBLAU

Fire raced through a home and two guest houses Tuesday morning, causing about $220,000 in damage as it gutted the small apartment of a woman who had decided at the last minute to take her three children and spend the night at her in-laws in Irvine.

"I'm just glad we weren't there," said Michele Tabor, 30. "Just about everything's gone--(the fire) took everything except us."

The blaze began about 7:45 a.m. near a Christmas tree in the living room at the Tabors' empty home at 1813 Fullerton Ave., said Susan Wood, a Costa Mesa fire spokeswoman.

Tabor said she had planned to spend Monday night there with her children--ages 6, 4, and 16 months--but changed her mind Monday evening when she began feeling ill and decided instead to go to her in-laws so they could baby-sit the children.

Fire investigators spent Tuesday examining the charred remains but could not determine an exact cause of the blaze.

"From what we were able to find out, the fire started near a Christmas tree and was aided by some wrapped gifts beneath the tree," Woods said. "But (the cause) could also have been the wiring because it was an old home."

The Red Cross brought a bag filled with Christmas gifts to replace those lost in the fire. And it will also offer food, clothing and financial assistance to Tabor, who is on welfare.

The morning blaze sent one of two other renters scurrying to safety, said Red Cross officials. In addition to the family, Suzanne McClure and Andrea Keith were also left homeless after fire officials determined that the building was not safe to reoccupy. The home, which was built in 1928, had been converted to a duplex with an additional rental unit in back.

McClure and Keith were planning to stay with friends in the area, officials said.

"We'll do whatever we can to help (all of them) get back on their feet," said Marc Winburg of the Red Cross disaster action team, who met with the Tabors in Irvine. "This is our busiest time of year, unfortunately--with Christmas tree fires and people using their ovens for the first time in a long time."

Tabor said she did not leave the Christmas tree lights on. She told fire investigators she did not know what could have caused the blaze, which destroyed her furniture, clothing, valuable pewter sculptures and videos.

Salvaged by the Tabors from the fire--soot-covered but largely undamaged--were the family's photo albums and a quilt Tabor had made for the children. "My most valuable possessions are here," Tabor said, pointing to her children.

Damage was estimated at $200,000 to the structure and another $20,000 to the contents.

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