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Liliha fire now ruled arson; elderly victim dies, 22 homeless

  • Red Cross volunteer Dani Ruiz, at right, talks to displaced residents of fire at 1909 Liliah Street this moring.

  • A fire ivestigator looks through the scene of an overnight fire at 1909 Liliha Street.

  • Clarence Isobe, 76, died in a fire at this rooming house in Liliha on Feb. 2. The fire also left 22 people homeless. A 43-year-old man is being held on $500,000 bail after being charged Saturday with arson and murder.
    Anastacia M. Javier (left), Dolores Talaba and Romeo Isaac didn't want to leave their home at 1909 Liliha St. this morning for aRed Cross shelter at Kalihi Valley District Park because they wanted to protect their belongings. The three were among the 22 tenants who lived in the two-story Liliha street boarding house that was nearly destroyed by a fire just after midnight.

One of two elderly residents taken to the hospital after an early morning fire has died. Fire investigators have also determine arson to be the cause of the fire in which 22 people were left homeless in the Liliha area.

The death of a man who was initially reported as critically injured was confirmed by Honolulu police officers at the scene. 

Fire Capt. Terry Seelig said this afternoon the fire was intentionally set on the outside of the building., then spread inside.

Damage to the structure was estimated at $300,000.

One of the 22 tenants, Romeo Isaac, said he believed the man who was critically injured and later died had lived in the one of the downstairs units for past 30 years.

"He was hardly breathing when he was taken to the hospital," Isaac said.

Paramedics said they took a man in his 70s to the hospital in critical condition just after 1 a.m. Another elderly man was in serious condition, said Seelig.

The fire broke out at a two-story home at 1909 Liliha Street that was divided into rental units.

Seelig said one of the men was found on the first floor while the other was discovered on the second floor.

There are nine units on each floor.

Isaac said the critically injured man lived in a ground-floor unit.

Isaac thinks the fire started on an outside stairwell leading to the second floor kitchen which he and his girlfriend Dolores Talaban, share with other second floor renters.

Isaac said he was sleeping in his second-floor unit next to the kitchen when a neighbor came to his door yelling: "Romeo, Romeo. Wake up. The house is burning."

"From my window I could see flames on the stairs," Isaac said. "I ran to the hallway and grasped a fire extinguisher, but I didn’t know how to use it."

Anastacia Javier, who has lived in a ground floor unit fronting Dayton Lane since June, said she heard someone yelling: "’Fire,’ and knocking on my door."

"I lost all my things," said Javier who said her landlord just raised her rent to $280 a month.

The three tenants said they didn’t want to go the Red Cross shelter several miles away because there would not be anyone at the house to protect their belongings.

"We are waiting to go back in," said Javier.

None of the trio knew where they would spend tonight.

The American Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at Kalihi Valley District Park and are providing temporary shelter and food to 19 people there.

The three tenants said that three children also lived in the ground floor units, but they and fire officials said that none of the children were injured.

A total of 35 firefighters responded to the two-alarm fire that was turned in at 12:34 a.m. with firefighters responding with three minutes, Seelig said. 

The fire was under control by 12:48 a.m.

There was no immediate estimate of damage.

This was the second major fire in a week in the Kalihi-Liliha area.

Early Saturday morning a malfunctioning gas water heater caused of a  fire that left about 25 people homeless at 1010 Rawlins Lane in Palama.

One home was fully gutted, causing about $240,000 in damage. The fire also damaged two adjacent homes.

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