COURTESY YAMANASHI KYOYUKAI FRIENDSHIP CLUB
A photo shows house fire victim Susumu Kajiwara, right, and his brother Takamasa.
Brother lost to fire
An 84-year-old Aiea man is unable to save a family member from flames
An injured 84-year-old man tried desperately to save his brother from a fire in the Aiea Heights home they shared, but heat, smoke and explosions from the blaze doomed his efforts.
World War II veteran Susumu Kajiwara, 82, died yesterday morning in the fire at 99-381-A Uwau Drive, according to fire officials.
The fire was first reported at 8:29 a.m. after neighbors smelled smoke. Minutes later they heard two explosions from within the house and saw Takamasa Kajiwara standing outside, yelling for his younger brother Susumu, who was inside.
"Was going boom! Boom! The windows wen' bust both sides, first the right, then the left side, and flames was shooting out everyplace," said neighbor Jensen Quevido, who was watching television when he smelled the smoke and came out to investigate.
"I saw the smoke and just ran down there and grabbed the hose and started shooting the neighbors' house so wouldn't catch fire, too."
Quevido said he noticed Takamasa Kajiwara yelling for his brother, but he said there was nothing he or anyone else could do.
"No, brah, no way," Quevido said. "We wouldn't have made it back out, was that intense, was just blazing out of control after the explosions."
Despite the heat, Kajiwara stayed outside his home and kept calling for his brother and even tried to go back in, according to other neighbors.
"I had to force him to leave his house because he wanted to go inside and get his brother," said neighbor Linda Del Rio, who, along with her sister, helped pull Kajiwara from the smoke and flames. "We had to get him away from there.
"After what happened the car could have blew, the truck would have blew, but he just did not want to leave the property."
The elder Kajiwara was taken by ambulance to the Kapiolani Medical Center at Pali Momi for treatment of first-degree burns and was released yesterday afternoon. Honolulu firefighters found his brother's body near the front of the house as they were fighting the blaze.
Fire officials said the cause of the fire is under investigation, and they are unsure what caused the explosions that witnesses reported. The fire caused about $225,000 in damage to the home and its contents.
Neighbors did the right thing by keeping the elderly man away from the burning home, fire officials said.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Firemen cleaned up a house fire yesterday in Aiea Heights that killed one man and injured his brother.
"All it takes, once that smoke gets superheated and you take a breath of that, that will sear your lungs," Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Kenison Tejada said.
"It's really important not to get near that kind of environment. Neighbors did a good thing by not allowing him to go back inside," Tejada said.
Friends of the Kajiwaras said there were five brothers altogether and that Takamasa and Susumu lived together in the Aiea Heights home since the 1950s and took care of their mother until she died in 2001.
Susumu was a former Sears worker and a retired city parks worker. The two brothers were active in the Yamanashi Kyoyukai Friendship Club, an organization made up of friends and family of those descended from the Yamanashi prefecture in Japan.
"Oh, this is such a shock," club President Dean Asahina said. "Those guys are stand-up guys, very honest, really nice people. Old as they were, they always came out to support us to pass the culture along.
"Those two were close. ... I can't believe it. I just can't believe it."
Tejada said that while tragic, yesterday's fire is a good example of why a fire escape plan is good to have not just for families with young children, but also for senior citizens.
"We should have one for our folks, too, have them rehearse it a couple of times," Tejada said. "It's important for everyone."