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Fire destroys Punaluu home located far from hydrant

The blaze does an estimated $600,000 in damage and displaces nine people

By Leila Fujimori

LAST UPDATED: 3:45 a.m. HST, Mar 24, 2011

Billy Casey stood in front of the burnt-out remnants of what had been his family home since 1972 wondering whether a nearby fire hydrant might have saved his Punaluu house, much of it burnt to the ground in a blaze yesterday.

"We've been trying for 40 years to get a fire hydrant," said Casey, whose house at 53-416H Kamehameha Highway is on a private road off Punaluu Valley Road and is more than 1,000 feet from the nearest fire hydrant.

"There are many places in the islands that don't have fire hydrants close by," fire Capt. Terry Seelig said.

Firefighters from Hauula arrived in less than 10 minutes with a 750-gallon truck and a 1,500-gallon tanker behind it, with companies from Kaaawa and Kahuku right behind, Seelig said.

Firefighters ran a hose from the nearest hydrant on Punaluu Valley Road, where it intersects with the private road. The first company drops the hose, and the second company hooks up a pumper to the hydrant and relays water to the site, with additional pumpers used if needed, Seelig said.

The early morning fire displaced Casey and his sister Toni Golden, who lived in two sections of the 4,200-square-foot house with their spouses and their five children. The fire was brought under control at 7:47 a.m. and caused an estimated $600,000 damage, Seelig said. The cause remains under investigation, but the fire appeared to start on the second floor, he added.

"A lot of memories gone up in flames and smoke," Casey said. "The most important thing is the family got out, so I feel blessed. We can rebuild. When someone loses a life, that can't be replaced."

"The Board of Water Supply's policy regarding fire protection for private roads is up to the public right-of-way," said Kurt Tsue, spokesman for the water board. He said there had been a request for a hydrant in Punaluu and the board started a design project, but due to limited funding the request had been deferred from year to year.

Tsue said private owners have the option to install a hydrant themselves, but costs vary.

Neighbor Marc Beaulieu, 54, said the Punaluu Community Association discussed the perennial issue affecting 15 homes two weeks ago, and someone commented, "It's going to take a fire to get them to do something."

Beaulieu saw the orange glow of the fire, ran in to warn the family and found Golden trying to put out flames with a big towel. "She collapsed on the ground outside," he said. "She was in tears."

"Within minutes it was just totally engulfed," he said.

Casey, 56, was getting ready to take his daughter to school at about 5:40 a.m. when he smelled burning plastic.

"I heard a lot of racket upstairs, and I looked up and I saw flames coming out from where the kitchen is," he said.

"We had to go back in … to look for my sister," Casey said. "She was back in the bushes. … She was traumatized."

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