Woman, 81, dies in blaze at home
It is unclear if candles that were used during Sunday's blackout were the fire's cause
Eighty-one-year-old Masae Kiyota died Sunday in a Kuliouou house fire during the islandwide power failure.
Sisters Masae and Yukie Kiyota had been using candles before the fire, niece Louella Kohler said. Yukie Kiyota told firefighters about the candles, she said.
The fire left Masae Kiyota's bedroom a charred heap of rubble, and box springs the only remnant of her bed.
The two single women -- Masae was the caregiver for Yukie -- lived together for some 50 years at the three-bedroom house at 256-A Kuliouou Road. The cause of the 7:30 p.m. blaze remains under investigation, fire Capt. Kenison Tejada said.
Kohler made five or six calls throughout the day to check on her aunts after the earthquakes, and refrained from driving to Kuliouou from her Makaha home since authorities advised against traveling Sunday.
"I told her (Masae Kiyota) to go get batteries, but they didn't have any where she went," Kohler said.
During the last call, at about 5:30 p.m., Masae Kiyota told her niece the power was still out, and they decided to meet for dinner last night.
Instead, Kohler had to break the news to her aunt when she arrived at the hospital. "It was very, very shocking for her. They were very close."
Kohler is grateful for the help from neighbors.
Peter Phengvath pounded on the front door after discovering the rear portion of the house on fire, yelling, "Fire! Get out!" Yukie came to the door, and Phengvath's brother, Harris, carried her to safety.
"It was raining and pitch black," Peter Phengvath said. When he asked if there was anyone else, she said, "My sister, my sister."
He tried to enter, but "smoke and heat got to me."
"We tried but we just couldn't," he said.
About 10 other young neighborhood men tried to help. Some neighbors climbed over the wall and tried to douse the flames with a garden hose.
Masae Kiyota, a retired court reporter for the state district court, was a "very careful woman," Kohler said. "Even firemen said she was very orderly in the house."
The Phengvaths left containers of flowers yesterday in memory of their neighbor, who enjoyed her garden.
"When I think of her, I only see her smiling," said neighbor Florence Terada, who also brought flowers.
Damage to the house was estimated at $70,000 to the building and $20,000 to its contents. The house is structurally unstable, and investigators will continue their investigation once it is deemed safe, Tejada said.
The Fire Department warns against the use of candles for lighting and recommends a battery-powered light instead.
If a candle is used, it should not be left unattended.