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Family of 5 on birthday trip when California boat ignited

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SANTA BARBARA, California (AP) — A broken-hearted mother posted on her Facebook page Tuesday that her three daughters, their father and his wife were among those presumed dead after flames engulfed a dive boat off Southern California over the holiday weekend.

Susana Rosas of Stockton, California, thanked people for their prayers and support.

The family of five was among 34 people presumed dead in the blaze. All were sleeping below deck when the fire started early Monday. Other victims included students from a Northern California charter school serving grades 7-12, and a marine biologist who owned the diving company and was leading the tour.

Five crew members were rescued, and the bodies of 20 victims have been recovered so far. Many need to be identified by DNA analysis, and officials are collecting samples from family members.

Rosas posted that her three daughters — Evan, Nicole and Angela Rose Quitasol — were with their father Michael Quitasol and stepmother Fernisa Sison.

Evan Quitasol was a nurse at St. Joseph's Medical Center of Stockton, where her father and Sison had worked after attending nursing school at San Joaquin Delta College.

Sison also worked at the college teaching first-year nursing students full-time in 2005 and 2006 and later as an adjunct instructor, according to the school's spokesman, Alex Breitler.

Rosas' husband, Chris, told the Los Angeles Times that Nicole Quitasol worked as a bartender in Coronado near San Diego and her sister, Angela Rose, was a science teacher at a middle school in Stockton.

The sisters were on the trip to celebrate their dad's birthday, Chris Rosas said. He described them as "the most kind, most loving people I've ever met — and I'm not just saying that because they're family."

Also below deck were students from Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz. School director Maria C. Reitano declined Tuesday to say how many students went on the trip, which was not sponsored by the school.

Brett Harmeling of Houston said that his sister Kristy Finstad, 41, was leading the scuba tour off Santa Cruz Island, part of California's Channel Islands.

Harmeling thanked everyone in a post on his Facebook page for their "unconditional love and support during this incredibly tragic time."

Finstad was co-owner of Worldwide Diving Adventures based in Santa Cruz, which is about 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of Santa Cruz Island.

Finstad knew the area well, having done hundreds of dives in the Channel Islands, where she first swam with her father as a toddler. She first dove with a tank off Mexico at age 9, according to her company's website.

Harmeling described his sister to the Los Angeles Times as extremely strong-willed and adventurous.

"If there was a one percent chance of her making it, she would have made it," Harmeling, 31, said.

Their mother founded the diving company in the 1970s.

Finstad studied damselfish and corals in the Tahitian Islands, dove for black pearls in the French Polynesian Tuamotus Islands and counted salmonids for the city of Santa Cruz, where she lived. She also did research for the Australian Institute of Marine Science and wrote a restoration guidebook for the California Coastal Commission.

"My mission is to inspire appreciation for our underwater world," she wrote on her company's website.

She and her husband had just returned from sailing across the South Pacific. It was part of their 10-year plan that started on the back of a napkin in 2006.

They left from the Channel Islands in 2015 on the journey and planned to return in 2018. Before they set off, Finstad wrote: "Our new boss is King Neptune: when it blows we hunker down; when there's surf we paddle in; when there's rain we wash up. In terms of time-lines, the best we can do is point in the right direction."

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