"All we want are prayers," Schlierf said Friday. "Each and every prayer is important."

One boy, Kevin, 6, was burned over 27 percent of his body. His brother, Brian, 8, was burned over 40 percent. Both remain in "very critical" condition and have undergone surgery at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Fla., where they are being treated in the pediatric intensive care unit.

"We're just living from moment to moment," Schlierf said.

The Schlierfs' nightmare began shortly after midnight last Thursday while the family slept inside a three-bedroom villa at the vacation resort of Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic.

Schlierf, the two boys, her 3�-year-old daughter, Samantha, and the nanny were upstairs. Her husband, Jim, had fallen asleep on a couch downstairs watching TV.

Friends said it was Jim Schlierf who was awakened by the smell of smoke and ran upstairs to alert the others.

As the Schlierfs pulled the boys out of their blazing bedroom, the nanny ran out with little Samantha.

"It makes me shudder to think what may have happened if (the father) had not smelled the smoke," said Julie Sullivan, principal of Ridgebury Elementary School where the boys are students.

There was no information available on Friday about how or where the fire started.

Neither Jim and Janine Schlierf, nor their daughter and nanny, were injured.

The boys, who also suffered severe smoke inhalation, were first taken to a local clinic and then to Santo Domingo, the island's capital, before being airlifted to Miami.

Kevin underwent a second round of surgery Friday. Brian also was scheduled for a second operation.

"It's going to be a long recovery," Janine Schlierf said. "I think we'll be down here a long time."

Schlierf said the family has rented an apartment 15 minutes from the hospital to be near the boys.

The family tragedy has aroused support and sympathy throughout Ridgefield.

In a letter to parents, Sullivan said the Schlierfs had not only asked for their prayers but for other children to send the boys letters and pictures.

"Kiss and hug your family every day," Sullivan wrote. "Whatever your religious beliefs, please tap into them now for the sake of this family."

The Schlierfs also asked local families to display a yellow ribbon at their homes until the boys return to Connecticut.

Brian is scheduled to enter third grade this year and Kevin will be a first-grader.

Sullivan described Brian and Kevin as "happy-go-lucky, kind little boys, hard-working and beloved by other children."

A spokeswoman at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Ridgefield, where the family are members, said congregants would be asked to pray for the boys during Mass until they recovered.

Nan Howkins, administrator of Children's Corner, a local day care center the Schlierf children attended, said friends of the family had already set up a nonprofit fund for the boys to help defray costs.

"This is a pretty sad situation," Howkins said.

Veteran Ridgefield firefighter Jim Belote, urged by his daughter Jennifer, also has canvassed the support of the town fire and police departments to establish a medical burn account with the Union Savings Bank in Ridgefield to help the boys.

"Firemen are always looking to help people who get burned," said the 60-year-old Belote. "This is another case of wanting to reach out."

At Ridgebury Elementary School, a giant yellow ribbon already adorns a fir tree at the entrance. Inside the lobby, Sullivan has provided rolls of ribbon and scissors for anyone else wanting to express support for the boys' safe return.

"This is a terrible tragedy for these poor little guys and their families," said Sullivan. "I'm getting about a dozen calls each day from people wanting to know how they're doing."



Donations to help the Schlierf family can be sent to the Kevin and Brian Fund, c/o Janine Schlierf, PO Box 1173, Ridgefield, Conn., 06877 or any branch of Wachovia Bank, Union Savings Bank, Ridgefield, or any other local branch.