Fire destroyed an abandoned house and damaged three neighboring occupied homes in lower Alewa Heights late this afternoon, possibly leaving several families homeless.
The two-alarm fire appeared to have started at 2034 Iholena St. about 4:45 p.m., said Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Terry Seelig. The house is at Iholena and Lohena streets, across from Alewa Park. Damage was estimated at $300,000.
Three other homes sustained "moderate" damage – two, two-story homes at 915 Lolena and one on Iholena, Seelig said.
Neighbors said that the abandoned home had been on the market for about a year, and that it had been vacant for a number of years before that.
It appeared dilapidated and some neighbors reported that it had been inhabited at times by homeless people.
But Seelig said it was premature for investigators to say what caused the fire.
The fire occurred along an area of Alewa with narrow and winding streets, making it more difficult for firefighters to battle the blaze, Seelig said. The close proximity of the homes also contributed to the spreading of flames, he said.
"We were fortunate to get here pretty quickly," Seelig said. "Our first company got here within four minutes and they were able to start attacking the fire and keep it from continuing to spread. However, the fire was well developed by the time they got here. The structure was fully engulfed and spreading to the adjacent structures."
At 8 p.m., it was still unclear how many people needed help. Because the fire was still smoldering in the abandoned structure where the fire began, people living in the other homes could only stand by and watch helplessly.
The two houses at 915 Lolena are owned by two immigrant Chinese families who said they bought their homes only about a year ago.
Michelle Kuan said seven people live in the back house owned by her family – she and four others upstairs and three renters downstairs.
The family first realized there was a fire nearby when her mother smelled smoke, she said. "My mom thought it was a barbecue."
Kuan said she did not think people were living in the abandoned house although "I heard that sometimes people go in there and play around."
Bing Hing Liu, a Chinatown merchant, said in Cantonese that he purchased the front house last April.
Liu and other family members were worried about whether they would be able to sleep in their home, and how the damage to their home was going to be paid for.
The Lius said they also were not aware of anyone living in the vacant house next to them.
The American Red Cross was being called to assist, Seelig said.