OAKLAND -- It only took minutes to turn the life of 7-year-old Allison Benavides upside down. She is the only survivor of a fatal fire that swept through her East Oakland home last week, killing her mother, Ruth Mejia, and baby sister, Ivonne Benavides, and a man who rescued Allison.
Allison's father, Nelson Benavides, was in the custody of immigration authorities when the fire broke out. He will be deported to El Salvador soon after he attends the funeral services.
And Allison may be deported, too, although her departure could be delayed, immigration officials said Tuesday.
The blaze started around 2 a.m. Dec. 30 in the four-unit apartment building on the 1700 block of 82nd Avenue where Mejia lived with the two girls. The fire may have been caused by an overloaded extension cord that Mejia ran into a downstairs apartment after PG&E in early December cut off power.
Nelson Benavides was being held in San Diego when he learned that his 3-year-old daughter, Ivonne, died in the fire along with her mother, who was 27.
Benavides was stricken by the news of the fire and said he wanted to be with his daughter, according to Ana Valenzuela, the consul general of El Salvador in San Francisco. The consul general said she has been communicating with members of Mejia's family in El Salvador. Allison lived with her grandfather for several years before she joined Mejia in Oakland. She was not a U.S. citizen and had no permission to be
Authorities from numerous agencies met with Allison's family and the girl this week to decide what would be in her best interest, Valenzuela said. She is in the custody of the Alameda County Social Services. No one from the agency responded to calls requesting information.
U.S. Border Patrol agents had arrested Benavides in July trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border near Calexico, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said. On Dec. 20, a judge ordered his deportation.
ICE was preparing for Benavides' removal to El Salvador when the fire broke out.
Mejia reported Benavides to Oakland police on Feb. 21, 2008, after he punched her with a closed fist and scratched her face during an argument, according to court documents. Police arrived at the couple's home on 82nd Avenue, the same home where the fire occurred. Police identified Benavides as Mejia's live-in boyfriend.
Mejia told officers she feared he would retaliate against their two children -- including Allison, who was still in El Salvador -- if she had him arrested, the records show.
Benavides was taken into custody and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery charges, according to the records. A judge sentenced him to three years' probation and ordered him to stay away from Mejia and the two children.
Benavides also had to pay a $530 fine and attend 52 domestic violence-control classes at an organization called Peace Creations. Records show that he completed all the classes and made satisfactory progress.
Kice said ICE will have an opportunity to meet with Benavides to discuss Allison's future after the funeral.
Mejia and Ivonne's remains will be sent to El Salvador for burial after the funeral here.
The third victim of the fire, Guillermo Reyna-Flores, 32, lived in the same apartment as Mejia. Authorities have not said what his relationship was to the family, but he saved Allison's life. Reyna-Flores ran out of the building with the girl in his arms. He sat her down outside and ran back into the fire to save her mother and sister, authorities said. Instead the three died, trapped by the flames.