The couple who suffered severe burns in last month’s Tea Fire are gradually improving. The husband remains unconscious under sedation and is hooked up to a ventilator; his wife has begun to breathe on her own.

The medical conditions of Lance and Carla Hoffman, both 29, have been upgraded by doctors at UC Irvine Regional Burn Center from critical to serious and fair, respectively, family members and hospital officials said Monday.

Lance, a security guard at Paseo Nuevo, and Carla, a manager at Metro Entertainment on West Anapamu Street, suffered second- and third-degree burns all over their bodies when leaving their rented cottage on East Mountain Drive shortly after the fire broke out Nov. 13. The blaze consumed 210 homes, including theirs.

On Monday, family members said doctors expect the couple to stay in Irvine for three more months. Nonetheless, relatives were pleased by their progress.

“Since all this happened, we’ve been in a state of depression,” said Alice Mills, Lance’s grandmother. “As of yesterday, we finally can start seeing really positive improvements, and we’re jumping for joy.”

Both victims are expected to undergo skin-graft surgeries this week, said John Murray, media relations manager for the UC-Irvine Medical Center.

Although Carla is no longer in a medical-induced coma, she is still under heavy sedation and had not yet begun to converse with people, Murray said. “But she is responding to them,” he said.

Family members said the couple’s swelling has improved significantly, as well as their smoke-damaged lungs.

“Before, he was so bloated like a balloon you would not have recognized him,” said Jim Mills, Lance’s grandfather.

On the evening of the fire, the couple apparently were running to their car from their cottage when they were overtaken by a flash fire.

Although badly burned, the couple drove to Santa Barbara Fire Station No. 7, at Stanwood Drive and Mission Ridge Road.

From the station, they were transported by ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, and later were flown by helicopter to Irvine.

Twenty-two percent of Lance’s body was burned, and 9 percent of it was covered in third-degree burns, Jim Mills said. About 30 percent of Carla’s body was burned, although she had fewer third-degree burns, he said.

“It’s going to be a crawl, but that’s all right,” Alice Mills said of their recovery. “We’re on cloud nine right now.”

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— Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at