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Firefighters give gifts to fire victims
By CASEY CORA, Times Staff Writer
Published December 18, 2007
TAMPA - Eight-year-old Gerardo Perez sat in front of the camera crews and calmly described the day of the fire, explaining the burned roof and how his mother's bedroom turned black.
"The fire came, and we lost everything," added his sister, Yuraisys Diaz, a fifth-grader at Egypt Lake Elementary School.
Learning of their plight through a twist of fate - Gerardo's teacher is married to a Tampa Fire Rescue paramedic - firefighters surprised the children this morning with holiday bags stuffed with gift cards and toys.
"It's something we needed to do," said Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Russell Spicola. "That's a good thing."
Their home, along with about a dozen others at the Lakeshore Club Apartments and Townhouses, was destroyed on Nov. 29 in a fire that left about 43 people displaced. The siblings have been staying with relatives in east Miami and returned Monday to Tampa for the surprise. Their mother, Julie Fuerte, has been in Peru tending to a sick relative.
Investigators said a resident's malfunctioning electronics equipment was to blame for the blaze, which caused between $700,000 and $800,000 in building damage and another $100,000 in residents' property losses.
Some of those losses belonged to Gerardo and Yuraisys. Inside their mother's charred apartment were their books, movies and clothes. Both children said they would use the donations to replace their lost items.