POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 31, 2010
Gail Kualapai escaped with only her purse.
A two-alarm fire gutted her Ewa-by-Gentry home at 91-195 Wailohia Place in Soda Creek yesterday, destroying all four family members' belongings, said her younger sister Tina Medeiros, who lives in Kalihi.
"My heart is on the ground," said Medeiros after firefighters extinguished the blaze. "At least she's OK."
Family members huddled around Kualapai across the street from the charred home, where she had lived for about 10 years with her husband and two daughters.
Firefighters estimated damage at $400,000 to the home and its contents. A neighboring home sustained about $30,000 in damage.
Fire investigators did not determine a cause yesterday but suspect it started in the garage, said Fire Capt. Robert Main.
Medeiros said she believes an electrical problem caused the fire.
The fire started about 11 a.m., ripping through the two-story home and setting off several explosions, neighbors said.
When firefighters arrived, they found flames engulfing the house and extending to a house next door, said Fire Capt. Terry Seelig. About 35 firefighters battled the blaze.
Kualapai, her daughter and her granddaughter were home at the time but got out safely. But neighbor Mike Kim Seu cut his right arm breaking a window to escape.
He got a call from a neighbor about puffs of smoke and ran next door to get the neighbors out of the house.
Using a garden hose, he sprayed water on flames on the garage wall as it began to crumble. Electrical popping sounds came from the wall and paint cans exploded, he said.
He backed off and got on his roof to spray both his neighbor's and his house.
"I tried to save their house, but it was too late already," he said. The flames grew, and when he got off the roof, he found the fire blocked his escape through a side door.
"I was trapped," he said. "The whole side was engulfed; I couldn't go through that.
"It was lapping my house," he said. "All the left side of my house got burned."
Kim Seu smashed a window with his right forearm and climbed through, cutting the back of his neck and his forehead. He escaped through the garage.
The American Red Cross is helping the Kualapai family with clothes.
The family planned to stay with relatives.