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Residents warned to take steps to prevent and escape home fires


Blazes at five different multifamily living quarters in 10 days spotlight the need for Oahu home dwellers to take preventive steps and to be prepared in case of fire, a Honolulu Fire Department official said.

Prevention and Preparedness

Capt. Terry Seelig, the Honolulu Fire Department’s public information officer, said prevention and preparedness are key to surviving a fire at your home.
» Clear your home of material that can aid the spread of fire and obstruct escape routes.
» Use caution when cooking, smoking or using candles; never leave them unattended.
» Inspect your electrical connections and electronic equipment frequently.


» Have and maintain working smoke alarms.
» Have a fire escape plan, share it with others under your roof, and practice it.
Source: Capt. Terry Seelig, Honolulu Fire Department

Investigators have determined that a fire in an Ewa Beach townhouse unit Tuesday afternoon started when a woman who was frying something forgot to turn off her stove when the electricity went out, said Honolulu fire Capt. Terry Seelig. She left the house and the power came back on, causing the frying oil to ignite, he said. The fire caused $25,000 in damage.

Meanwhile, no cause has been determined for a fire that burned a cottage on Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki, also Tuesday afternoon. That fire caused about $10,000 in damage.

On Feb. 2, a man died from injuries from arson at a Liliha rooming house.

Those fires, as well as other fires in Kapalama on Jan. 29 and in Waikiki last Thursday, left more than 50 people homeless.

The five blazes differed greatly in origin and there’s no way to completely safeguard against a fire. But there are ways to lower the chances of a disaster occurring, Seelig said. Many are common sense.

On the prevention side, people should take the time periodically to look for home hazards, he said.

"Look for things that can cause a fire, allow a fire to spread rapidly, or prevent you from escaping quickly," he said.

Residents should also take precautions when dealing with fire-related activities, be it cooking, using a candle or smoking.

"Those are probably the three most common causes — cooking, candles and cigarettes," Seelig said. "A fourth would be electrical."

The Kapalama fire was blamed on a malfunctioning gas water heater while the Waikiki fire is believed to have been electrical in origin. Seelig recommends an inspection of appliances and electrical connections in the house at least once a year.

"Especially as houses age, plugs start to get old and brittle over a time, and develop little gaps that can start sparks," he said.

All five structures that caught fire are over 10 years old and, in the case of the Liliha rooming house, more than 50 years old.

Residents may want to hire a licensed electrician to inspect breaker boxes, receptacle plugs and outlets, and light fixtures.

"It may not be real inexpensive to fix, but it will be nothing compared to what you would have to pay to repair your house if it catches fire," Seelig said.

As for preparedness, he said purchasing and maintaining smoke alarms throughout a dwelling is one of two critical components necessary in anticipating a fire.

Many dwellers have smoke alarms in place but neglect to change the batteries, he said.

Also crucial is having an escape plan and then holding periodic drills. A household or residents association can even ask HFD to review its escape plan, Seelig said.

"It does no good to just have that escape plan and kind of think about it without actually practicing it," he said. "And that’s why fire drills are so important."

While there is a federal requirement for businesses and schools to hold fire drills, households and residential complexes should also practice, he said.

The building manager of the Aloha Lani, where last Thursday’s fire occurred, said a fire escape plan is posted in the lobby of the condominium and residents are issued copies of the plan when they move in.

Having fire extinguishers in the house is helpful, he said. But that’s only if those living in a dwelling know how to use them and are able to recognize if a fire is of a size that can be managed by an extinguisher.

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