Midnight Makiki blaze claims 2 lives


POSTED: Friday, April 24, 2009

Police are trying to determine whether a late-night argument between renters may have led to a fire that gutted a $1.2 million, two-story Makiki Heights home early yesterday.

;[Preview]  Makiki Blaze Kills Two

Neighbors hear tenants arguing before blaze started.

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The fire at 2069 Mauna Place, on a slope just above Roosevelt High School, killed two people believed to be renting rooms.

The house was so badly damaged that it took nearly all day for city workers and firefighters to shore up the badly charred shell to recover the two bodies, which were taken to the Medical Examiner's Office for identification and determination of cause of death.

“;It was the most terrifying experience I have ever had,”; said neighbor Mei-Mei Engel. “;The embers from the fire were falling on my house like orange rain.”;

Gary Hughes, the son of the woman who owned the home, said one of the victims had argued with household members only minutes before the fire.

The woman slammed doors, swore and shouted at “;anyone who would listen,”; Hughes said.

He said the woman was upset about someone stealing her husband's mo-ped.

“;She seemed out of control. I think alcohol had a lot to do with it,”; said Hughes, who lives next door.

The family debated whether to call police when things started to calm down and Hughes returned home. Five minutes later the house was on fire, he said.

Honolulu Police Department Maj. Frank Fujii said that no argument was officially reported to police, but that officers were told about it later. Fujii said there appeared to be “;at least 45 minutes”; between the argument and when the fire was reported.

Fujii said Makiki officers had responded in the past to reports of “;loud parties”; and “;loud noises”; at the home, just off Mott-Smith Drive, but not within the last year.

Police said eight people lived in the home, but officials did not know how many were present when the alarm was turned in at 12:20 a.m. yesterday. Three people and two dogs escaped the blaze, which lit up the slopes.

Fire officials said they could account for at least two renters. The homeowner identified the dead as two of her other renters, and officials were trying to find the last of the five. Hughes said he believed that man was not at home because his motorcycle was gone.

The Red Cross said it treated four of the house's occupants at the scene of the fire, but a spokeswoman said she was not allowed to identify them.

H.R.H. Fleur, who has owned the six-bedroom home since 1970, identified the victims as Larry Fair, a computer expert who also videotaped weddings, and Christy Bartlett. She said they rented separate bedrooms and moved in about six months ago. She said Fair was from Indiana and Bartlett came here from Tennessee and worked at a karaoke bar.

Fleur said Fair's late-model Nissan was still parked outside of her house, its rear end badly singed by the blaze. It was later towed from the scene by police.

Fleur said Fair rented the master bedroom, which faces Mauna Place, and Bartlett rented a smaller bedroom on a lower level.

Fleur, daughter Mara Kyle and grandson Ikaika Kinoshita were sleeping in separate basement bedrooms when the fire broke out just past midnight. They escaped without injuries.

Fleur said she had gone to bed at about 9:30 p.m. and was awakened by a smoke alarm.

Fire Capt. Terry Seelig said the fire caused so much damage that firefighters and the medical examiners could not enter the charred structure until it could be reinforced. Two badly burned bodies were discovered by firefighters peering into windows, using ladders propped against the side of the building.

Fujii said the two bodies have been classified as “;unattended deaths”; until fire investigators determine whether the blaze was set maliciously.

Hughes, who owns a neighboring home at 2059 Mauna Place, said he saw flames “;coming out of the master bedroom.”;

His immediate thought was “;to keep the fire away from my house.”;

There was no damage to the surrounding homes, and no firefighters were injured, Seelig said.

Fire damage to Fleur's home was extensive, but there was no immediate estimate of financial loss. City property tax records assess the 3,047-square-foot home at $1.2 million.

Seelig said this was the first time that firefighters and other city personnel had to bring lumber to shore up a house before inspectors could enter the building.

“;Couple of the walls have collapsed,”; Seelig said. “;There are holes in the floor on several levels. Parts of the roof are missing.”;

The first company of firefighters responding had to drag their hoses several hundred yards up a steep slope from Mott-Smith Drive, hurdling several small walls. The fire was declared contained at 12:54 a.m. but not extinguished until 8 a.m.

Seelig said this was also the first time firefighters extinguished a blaze using compressed air foam.

Forty firefighters from five engine companies, two ladder companies and a rescue unit responded to the fire.


Star-Bulletin reporter Rob Shikina contributed to this report.