Fire destroysAn Ewa Beach family lost their "perfect" townhouse to a fire caused by a child playing with a lighter yesterday, leaving 10 children homeless just before the holidays.
familys perfect house
The Ewa Beach blaze started by
a child playing with lighter
leaves 12 homeless
By Lisa Asato
"Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and I lost all that because everything was upstairs," said Bert Bustamante, who was at home with the couple's four youngest children, ages 1 to 7, while the older ones were in school.
"I don't care about material things because my kids, they're all right. But they're still going to need beds to sleep on and clothes to wear to school."
"This really felt like home," said Bustamante, who moved into the rental unit last month with his wife, Roxanne, and their children, ranging from 1-year-old Noah to 15-year-old Aulii. "We rented other places, and it wasn't quite as perfect as this."
The Bustamantes were looking forward to celebrating their first Thanksgiving and Christmas in the townhouse. It was smaller than their previous home, but closer to school for the children, Bert Bustamante said.
Roxanne, a cafeteria worker at nearby Campbell High School, was working when a security guard told her house was on fire.
"I didn't have a car so my friend brought me home, and I came home to see this," she said. "I'm going to expect the worst. Everything's gone. Everything."
The fire, which started in one of the children's bedrooms, gutted the top floor of the two-story unit at 91-551 Kulana Place. Fire Capt. Richard Soo said last night that investigators traced the fire to one of the children playing with a lighter. The Fire Department does not publicly identify the child responsible, he said.
The fire caused $55,000 damage to the structure and its contents.
Three fire companies responded to the 10:31 a.m. alarm. But "(the fire) was almost under control" by the time the first company arrived seven minutes later, Soo said. Neighbors had been battling the flames and smoke with yard hoses.
Neighbor Englebert Roy said his mom told him to call 911 when she saw smoke and Bert Bustamante and his children running out of the house.
Roy, 26, said he grabbed the Bustamantes' hose, climbed a fence, and fought the flames from the lanai roof in the back of the house. Three other neighbors joined him "within a good five minutes," and his father and other neighbors shot hoses through a front window, where smoke was concentrated.
"It was good teamwork," said Roy, who felt the lanai roof getting hot under his bare feet. "I think everybody at first (was) scared of the fire but when they saw people helping (that) gave them the motivation to do something."
Bustamante said his family was "just getting comfortable" in their new home, and he didn't even know the names of the neighbors who helped him. "That's how new I am," he said. "I went up to them and told them thank you very much. They risked their lives making sure I was all right."
Bustamante was asleep upstairs when the smell of smoke woke him up. He saw small flames in a bedroom and ran downstairs where the children were watching television. "I took them out and ran back in for my car keys and asthma medicine," he said, adding that in that short time the flames "just escalated."
Bustamante was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation. No one else was injured.
The American Red Cross Hawaii chapter yesterday provided the family with temporary housing in a hotel, vouchers for food and clothing and offered crisis counseling, said Jocelyn Collado, the chapter's communications manager. The Red Cross will work toward getting the family long-term housing, she said.
He asked yesterday that those who can help his family by donating food, clothes, dressers and beds to call his cellular phone at 223-8852.
Despite the loss, Bustamante, who won't get to go back to his job as an EK Fernandez ride operator until the January carnival season, said he is grateful for one thing. "I got my babies out," he said. "I can get another home, but I can't get another baby, you know."