This was supposed to be the Christmas that Lubin and Cecilia Reinoso would remember for a long time. They will, but for reasons they never imagined.

Reunited with relatives visiting from Venezuela, the Reinosos enjoyed a festive and hearty Christmas Eve dinner, opened presents and celebrated late into the night. At 5:30 yesterday morning, less than three hours after they had settled into bed, a fire broke out and quickly engulfed their Gaithersburg town house.

"We were so happy, just waiting for this moment to spend together," recalled Cecilia Reinoso, 40, crying uncontrollably yesterday afternoon. "Like a big family reunion, you know? Last night we had a big dinner and lots of friends. They were all admiring my house and my paintings . . . . And now it's all gone."

Yesterday afternoon, only a charred frame remained, with the windows blown out, the upstairs shutters melted and some burned belongings scattered on the front lawn: a suitcase, some clothes, a sink. The tree in the front yard, still decorated with Christmas lights, had singed shingles hanging from the branches.

According to Montgomery County fire investigators, the two-alarm blaze started as the result of an overheated electrical cord attached to a space heater in the basement.

As one witness put it, the fire "rocketed" up the 4-year-old town house on Capps Court, gutting it and incinerating the furniture and belongings inside.

Thirteen of the 14 occupants made a harrowing escape after smoke alarms woke them. Family members tried unsuccessfully to rescue Cecilia Reinoso's mother, Iria Rubio, 67, who remained trapped in the burning building until firefighters arrived to save her.

Rubio, who was not breathing when she was dragged from the house, was resuscitated and flown to Washington Hospital Center, where she was breathing on her own last night, her daughter said. Rubio's 14-year-old grandson, Javier Rodriguez, who tried to save her, was flown to Children's Hospital for observation and later released.

Three other family members were treated at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital for smoke inhalation and released.

The Reinosos, who lived in the town house with their two children and Rubio, had waited years for this Christmas. Cecilia's brother and sister and their families -- nine relatives in all -- traveled from Venezuela in the last week to celebrate the holiday.

In a tearful interview yesterday, Cecilia Reinoso recalled 20 frightening minutes that left her Christmas in ashes:

After a large dinner, the family went to bed about 3 a.m. yesterday. Shortly afterward, they were awakened by piercing fire alarms and found themselves in a thick soup of smoke.

While other relatives ran out, Cecilia's brother, Jose Rubio, 33, searched the upstairs in vain for his 4-month-old baby, not knowing that his wife had already escaped with the infant, Reinoso said. Eventually, Rubio smashed a window and jumped from the second floor, suffering only bruises.

Meanwhile, Reinoso said, her mother had collapsed on the first floor and her nephew, Javier, tried to grope through the inky darkness to find the woman, before the smoke got to be too much. Reinoso's husband also set out to save Rubio, but became lost in the smoke and couldn't find his way out.

Cecilia Reinoso said she was near the front door, saw some movement in the smoke and reached out.

"I pulled something and it was my husband and I dragged him out," she said.

Shortly afterward, the first fire engine arrived. Firefighters said they had to shove repeatedly at the front door to open it because Rubio's unconscious body was blocking it from the inside. "If we had gone in the back {where the fire was the worst}, that woman would not be alive" because it would have taken too long to reach her, said volunteer firefighter Sheldon Levy.

Fire walls between the town houses protected neighboring units. They suffered water damage and one was declared uninhabitable until the electricity could be checked. The people who live there are out of town and had not found out about the fire as of yesterday afternoon, neighbors said.

In the town house on the other side of the Reinoso home was Reece Pollack, 29, a volunteer firefighter, who said he didn't find this fire as exciting as some of the ones he normally fights.

"In this case, it's a little too close to home," he said.

Pollack and other neighbors said the Reinosos had done a lot of work on their three-bedroom town house, finishing the basement and adding a deck.

Montgomery fire authorities estimated the damage at $200,000, but Cecilia Reinoso said insurance cannot replace personal items that were lost: wedding pictures, Christmas presents and the paintings she had spent so much time creating.

"It burned everything. Everything," she said. "All our dreams were burned. They're gone. All I've got are my memories."

Reinoso, a hairdresser and an amateur painter, and her husband, an electronics engineer, have taken the family and guests to stay at the Herndon home of friends George and Mayra Brousseau.

"At least we're all alive now," Cecilia Reinoso said. "It's a miracle. Fourteen people, we're all alive."