FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
From his yard, Dane Johnasen showed his neighbor's house, which caught fire Tuesday. At far right is the window from which he helped rescue a trapped neighbor.
Fire rescue overcomes ‘unbelievable’ obstacles
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A fire in Makakilo destroyed a home Tuesday night, and its elderly resident was rescued by a good Samaritan neighbor.
The 75-year-old woman had to be pulled from her bedroom window because all of the other doors and routes had been obstructed by newspapers, magazines and other miscellaneous items.
"I was always worried for Dolores, and I just prayed I would be there to help her if a fire ever happened," said Dane Johnasen, about helping his neighbor, Dolores Kelly.
Firefighters battled the blaze for more than an hour at the 45-year-old home.
Fire officials remind residents to maintain clear escape routes from their homes.
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When he realized there was a fire in his elderly neighbor's home, Dane Johnasen didn't even bother going for the front door.
He went around to the bedroom window, the only opening he knew would not be blocked by clutter in 75-year-old Dolores Kelly's home on Akaula Street in Makakilo.
Kelly was rescued, and the fire consumed the home. Even after the blaze was under control, firefighters still couldn't get in the front door because it was blocked by newspapers, magazines and other miscellaneous items collected over decades.
"It was stacked so full, we couldn't even get any doors open," said Capt. Terry Seelig of the Honolulu Fire Department. "It's unbelievable."
Shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday, Johnasen heard Kelly screaming his name for help. Johnasen heard glass breaking, and he became alert.
"I thought someone was breaking into her house," Johnasen said. "I ran over, and I was real angry thinking I was going to see an intruder. Then I saw the flames coming out of the living room."
Kelly told firefighters that she was in one of the 45-year-old home's three bedrooms when she smelled smoke and saw a faint glow from the living room.
"So she takes a lamp, and starts breaking the louver windows and glass," said Seelig, adding that the pathway to the front door was blocked anyway.
Johnasen broke the rest of the glass to ensure Kelly didn't get cut, before putting his arms around her waist and hoisting her out. Johnasen's wife had called 911 by then, and firefighters responded by 10:56 p.m.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
A fire late Tuesday destroyed this Makakilo house. A woman had to be pulled from a bedroom window because the house was packed with newspapers, magazines and other items.
The fire was under control by 12:15 a.m. About 40 firefighters responded, and a foaming product had to be used to soak the contents of the home before the fire was extinguished.
Estimated damage is $240,000, with contents at $30,000. The fire's cause is under investigation. American Red Cross volunteers responded to the fire, and assisted the woman with shelter, clothing and food. The fire is the fourth on Oahu that the Red Cross has responded to in as many days.
Johnasen has lived at his home all his life, and knew Kelly well. Last year, when Kelly went on a vacation, he took care of her yard, and he wanted to clean the interior because he knew it was a fire hazard.
He's sensitive to it because he lost his 74-year-old aunt in a 2004 house fire in Waipio Acres. Elaine Kahiamoe reportedly ran back into the house to save the family dog.
"I knew the only way in was the bedroom," Johnasen said. "But even before my auntie passed away, I was always worried for Dolores, and I just prayed I would be there to help her if a fire ever happened."
Although it's not a term often used in Hawaii, firefighters nationwide associate situations similar to Kelly's with Collyer mansion syndrome, Seelig said.
The name comes from two New York brothers, Homer and Langley Collyer, who were found dead in their cluttered mansion in 1947. Langley, caretaker for his blind and paralyzed brother, died crawling through a tunnel of newspapers; his brother starved to death.
A general lesson to be learned from Tuesday's fire is to have more than one escape route.
"The real lesson here is that we all have to be careful how we live in that we don't create fire hazards by storing excess or flammable materials," Seelig said. "Also just having those obstructions are a real hindrance to any safe evacuation."