Fire destroyed an abandoned house and damaged three neighboring occupied homes in lower Alewa Heights late yesterday afternoon, possibly leaving several families homeless.
The two-alarm fire appeared to have started at 2034 Iholena St. at 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.
Three other homes sustained "moderate" damage — two two-story homes at 915 Lolena and one on Iholena, Seelig said.
Neighbors said the abandoned house was on the market for about a year and that it was 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 homes’ proximity also contributed to the flames’ spread, 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 unclear how many people needed help. Because the fire was smoldering in the abandoned structure, people living in the other homes could only stand and watch.
The two houses at 915 Lolena are owned by two immigrant Chinese families who bought their homes about a year ago.
Michelle Kuan, 14, said seven people live in the house owned by her family — she and three others upstairs and three renters downstairs.
The family 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 his house in April. Liu and other family members were worried about whether they could sleep in their home and how repairs would be paid for.
The American Red Cross was being called to assist, Seelig said.