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Friday, December 22, 2000

Ewa Beach home
destroyed in blaze
from ignored candle

The Dittrich family's
Christmas tree and
presents were spared

Candle-caused fires increasing
Safety tips

By Leila Fujimori

A burning candle almost melted away any hope of a merry Christmas for the Dittrich family.

Their Ewa Beach home was destroyed in a Wednesday night fire caused by the candle, but their Christmas tree and presents were spared.

"Probably the only good thing about this is, we got to open our Christmas presents early," said 13-year-old Violet Dittrich.

She received a new stereo she had hoped for. But it couldn't replace her favorite old blue-and-white teddy bear, which she hunted for amid the charred remains in her room.

But mom, Barbara Dittrich, was not so thrilled when she unwrapped her present of a huge hanging candle. "It'll be used for decorative purposes only," Dittrich promised.

It was an aromatherapy candle, left to scent her bedroom before bedtime, that is blamed for the fire that destroyed their rented home of five years. Dittrich said the "big, fat candle" was sitting directly on a stool without a holder.

"You just don't think," she said.

"We have noticed an increase in use of candles for aromatherapy used around bathtubs and in bedrooms to create some kind of atmosphere," said Capt. Richard Soo, spokesman for the Honolulu Fire Department.

"Candle sales have increased, and that has had grave effects on residential units in Honolulu," he said.

"The family celebrates around the candle, then they move on to dinner or something else," Soo said. "With the chaos or the pure joy of the holiday season, they might forget the candle."

This year the Honolulu Fire Department responded to nine candle-related fires, twice as many as in 1999.

Dittrich, a single parent with no renter's insurance, said it will be a struggle to replace all their possessions. The Red Cross assisted with $145 for food and clothes.

A neighbor offered a new Christmas tree to Violet yesterday, but she declined because hers survived. The Dittrichs will be celebrating Christmas around the tree at Violet's grandparents house nearby, where they will stay until they find a new home.

And Violet will get more presents of new clothes and other needed items on Christmas, which her aunts are bringing from Seattle and Hilo.

Dittrich and her daughter, who share the house with two cats and a dog, were watching television in the family room at the rear of the home Wednesday night. They ignored the crackling of the fire, thinking it was the cats playing. They also dismissed the horn-honking of passing drivers who saw the front of the house in flames.

When she realized the house was on fire, Dittrich, a police dispatcher, had Violet call 911, while she tried to put out the flames with a hose.

When the flames grew too big to handle, they grabbed photo albums and Christmas presents and ran outside.

Violet climbed under the padlocked chain-link gate with her dog, while her mom climbed over the fence. Their cats escaped through the back door but had not returned home early yesterday afternoon. Two rabbits in a backyard hutch were safe.

As Violet, an eighth-grade honor student at Ilima Intermediate School, walked through the ruins of her home yesterday, she remembered something in a school bag. She was relieved to find a math book that belonged to her teacher still intact.

Although firefighters had the 9:20 p.m. fire under control in minutes, it caused $160,000 damage to the house and $40,000 to its contents.

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Candles a growing cause
of Oahu house fires

A house fire Wednesday in Ewa Beach was the ninth candle-related fire that Honolulu Fire Department investigators have responded to this year.

That's more than double the four house fires caused by candles to which Honolulu firefighters responded in 1999. Candle-related fires on Oahu and property losses in 2000:

Bullet Feb. 13: 959 Luehu St., $30,000 building, $2,000 contents.
Bullet March 4: 404 Magellan Ave., $10,000 building, $5,000 contents.
Bullet May 17: 91-644 Kilaha St., $150,000 building, $1,000 contents.
Bullet May 30: 99-241 Ohialomi Place, $200,000 building, $35,000 contents.
Bullet June 8: 54-182 Hauula Homestead Road, damage estimate not available.
Bullet June 13: 91-935 Waiapo Place, $10,000 building, $2,500 contents.
Bullet Sept. 15: 85-961 Mill St., $125,000 building, $20,000 contents.
Bullet Nov. 5: 3526 Sierra Drive, $370,000, building, $100,000 contents.
Bullet Dec. 20: 91-944 Ahona St., Ewa Beach, $150,000 building, $50,000 contents.

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Fire Dept. offers
candle safety tips

The Honolulu Fire Department recommends following these candle safety practices:

Bullet Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens.
Bullet Always use nonflammable candleholders.
Bullet Never place candles near curtains or other combustibles.
Bullet Keep pets and children away from candles to prevent tip-over.
Bullet Never leave a burning candle unattended.

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