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Relatives plan two-day party for rescued family

A man and his children, lost for three nights, are home, safe and warm.

December 25, 2007|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

It wasn't the run-up to Christmas that the Dominguez family had envisioned.

They survived three snowbound nights in the Northern California woods during an errant hunt for a Christmas tree. Rescued as a new storm approached, they arrived home to a blizzard of national media attention.

Now the Paradise, Calif., foursome -- Frederick Dominguez, 38, his 15-year-old daughter, Alexis, and sons Christopher, 18, and Joshua, 12 -- will be joined by so many joyous relatives that the celebration is being stretched over two days.

"Because of all the families here to see the kids, we had to split up our Christmas times," said Barbara Sams, the children's grandmother. "There were too many of us to do it all together."

The four lost their way in the woods a dozen miles north of Paradise after setting out after church Dec. 16 on a hunt for the perfect Christmas tree.

They spent several stormy nights hunkered under a logging road culvert until a California Highway Patrol helicopter crew spotted the word "HELP" spelled out in tree branches on the snow.

Even after the rescue, it seemed for a time that Alexis might miss Christmas Day at home. The cheerleader suffered frostbite despite efforts by her father to rub her feet and swaddle them in a sweat shirt.

Released from Feather River Hospital in Paradise -- about 100 miles north of Sacramento -- just six hours after the rescue last Wednesday, the girl was rushed back early the next morning after pain in her toes became unbearable.

Doctors treated the frostbite over the coming days, and she was released from the hospital Saturday afternoon.

Her grandmother said the girl "is doing great."

The family now joins the ranks of celebrated modern-day snowbound survivors.

In 1993, Jim and Jennifer Stolpa spent a week with their infant son in the snowy wilds of remote northern Nevada after their car became stuck during a blizzard. The husband trekked 50 miles through drifts to find help.

Last year, the wife and daughters of Silicon Valley journalist James Kim were rescued after nine days in their stranded car in Oregon's Cascade Mountains. James Kim died of hypothermia while attempting to hike out.

The Dominguez family's saga unfolded far closer to home. They became lost in a forest that is a popular destination for families looking for Christmas trees.

Sams, the grandmother, said the family has long maintained the Christmas tradition, paying a $10 license fee to the timber firm that owns the local woods. She said residents consider the practice not just a fun way to fetch a Christmas tree but also an ecological, low-impact way to clear a forest becoming overgrown and fire prone.

In years past, the three children had joined in the holiday tradition, but the hunt was a first for Fred Dominguez. A native of southeast Los Angeles County, he moved to the mountain town earlier this year to be nearer his children, who live with his ex-wife, Lisa Sams.

During their days and nights in the snow, the family abandoned their Christmas tree. But they weren't at a loss for greenery once they came home.

A radio station donated a Yule tree. So did a Sacramento outdoor furniture retailer, complete with lights. A few locals also dropped off evergreens.

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