7th grader dies, siblings remain hospitalized after Mount Hope fire

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SAN DIEGO -- Authorities released the name Tuesday of a seventh-grader killed in a pre-dawn fire that gutted his family's Mount Hope home and left his younger siblings hospitalized.

Crews extinguishing the blaze in the 4200 block of J Street found the body of Millennial Tech Middle School student Fernando Castro in his bedroom shortly after midnight Monday, according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and county Medical Examiner's Office. An autopsy determined that the 12-year-old died of burns and smoke inhalation.

Medics took Fernando's brother and sister, 5-year-old Junior and 3-year-old Esme, to UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest.

"The kids are stable right now. They’re in critical condition, but they’re stable," said Ramon Vasquez, a cousin of the children.

"It's hard to stay strong.  We’re still mourning my cousin right so it’s mixed emotions," he said.

The children were under the care of their aunt when the fire erupted, officials said. She escaped unharmed, but her boyfriend was left with serious burns. He also was taken to a hospital, as were two firefighters who suffered minor injuries while dousing the flames.

Vasquez said his aunt Juanita, mother of Fernando, Junior and Esme, is struggling.

"It was hard to eat. It’s hard to eat, it’s hard to go on," said Vasquez. "We just had Thanksgiving together, so this is really, really hard.  It’s the holiday weekend and it happened, so it’s really hard."

He said Juanita has six children and is a single mom. The family is doing their best to be there for her.

"We're trying to help as family as much as we can and I still feel as though more is needed," he said.

Vasquez said he set up a fundraising page to help his aunt.

"To help with funeral arrangements, for surgeries, to help with all this stuff right now. It’s a lot of money and my aunt’s a single mother," he said.

Hydee Ferrufino, a close friend of the family, said the family is also in need of clothing.

"They need size 13 girls teen clothes for their daughter," said Ferrufino. "Juanita needs XL bottoms and XXL tops.  Everything they own burned in the fire."

Ferrufino said donations can be dropped off at 6274 Leaf Court, San Diego, 92114.

The family held a candlelight vigil Tuesday night at the Castro home. Vasquez said the vigil is to remember Fernando and to support the family, but it's also for the community.

"I've gotten calls -- I don’t even know some of these people -- and text messages so it’s really appreciated," said Vasquez. "To see the outcome and what’s going on right now is amazing."

Due to the extent of the structural damage, investigators were unable to pin down the cause of the fire, though they concluded it was accidental in nature, SDFRD spokesman Lee Swanson said. They set the monetary losses at $400,000.

The American Red Cross was called in to help the displaced family arrange for interim shelter.

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