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6 families homeless after blaze destroys apartments

    A faulty gas water heater appears to be the cause of a Kalihi fire that left six families homeless.

The lives of six families were thrown into turmoil following a fire early yesterday at two two-story buildings in a closely clustered section in Kapalama.

As several dozen firefighters put out hot spots and cleaned debris from the scene throughout the morning, dozens more victims of the fire and their neighbors milled around the end of tiny Rawlins Lane waiting to be told they could return to their units to see what had been destroyed and what survived. Many, like Merasol Garcia, had been up since the 2:45 a.m. fire.

Garcia, 14, looked ruefully at her scorched ROTC shirt, which had just been pulled from her apartment unit. Garcia vowed to find another in time to march in yesterday afternoon’s Chinese New Year parade in Chinatown with her ROTC friends.

Garcia said the scene was total chaos. "People were scattering around, screaming, calling 911. They didn’t know what for do," she said.

She knew her clothes had been damaged, as were her shoes. By the time she left for the parade around noon, her family didn’t know where it would be sleeping last night.

Initial indications were that a malfunctioning gas water heater caused the two-alarm fire at 1010 Rawlins Lane, said Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Gary Lum.

One two-story structure was fully gutted, causing about $240,000 in damage, Lum said. It had two units, one of which was vacant. The fire caused an unknown amount of damage to a second, two-story complex with six units.

Meliton Canete, 62, was asleep when the fire began. He said he was awakened by the commotion and ran for the door. But flames from outside forced him back in, he said. He pulled out glass jalousies and a wire screen to jump through a window, suffering cuts to his back and left leg.

Canete was treated at the scene by paramedics and appears to have been the only person injured.

After describing his escape to reporters, one neighbor jokingly called him a "Filipino superman."

The Hawaii chapter of the American Red Cross was called in to assist those affected by the fire.

Jessie Kozel, Oahu disaster coordinator, said the agency helped about 20 people from six units. Some are staying with relatives while others are in hotel rooms.

Depending on their needs, they also received food, medication and clothing, she said.

Joseph Trumata, 50, said he, his wife and two teenage boys were hoping to find shelter. "We don’t have a place to go," he said. Even if his unit was salvageable, the electricity was expected to be out.

Trumata said when he was awakened, he ran outside and tried to help others put out the fire.

"But they cannot stop the fire already," he said. "The fire became too big."

He then ran back into the house to get his family. Geraldine Trumata, his wife, managed to grab their passports and other valuable papers before fleeing.

Trumata praised firefighters for their efforts.

"They saved this house," he said, pointing to the wooden structure. "If the firefighters no good, you know this house? Burn already."


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