Monday, May 14, 2001

Natalie Napoleon lost everything when fire gutted
the second story of this house at 40 Makani St.
in Wahiawa. Her room was on the second story.

Nothing left to
give but courage

Fire leaves a family
cleaning up ash and
soot on Mother's Day

By Leila Fujimori

For her single mom on Mother's Day, Natalie Napoleon had a simple gift.

"I wrote her a poem 'cause that's all I can do for her," Napoleon said. "It's mainly about how every person and every thing shouldn't be taken for granted."

Napoleon learned that lesson Saturday when fire consumed the upper floor of the house where her bedroom was located. "Everything was ashes except my bed frame," she said.

The 15-year-old writer had kept a journal since she was in the first grade, amassing 15 volumes, which she had wanted to pull together into a book.

"I lost all my stuff, everything sentimental to me -- all my poems and my writings, and I was two years into writing a book -- and everything's gone," she said as a tear rolled down her cheek while she sat on the sidewalk in front of her house.

Her mother, Kathie Napoleon, was the only one home when the fire started shortly before 6 p.m. at 40 Makani Ave. in Wahiawa. Natalie had been at the library, and her sister Kandyce, 8, and brother Alika, 6, were out fishing.

The 39-year-old mother was outside when a man who was cleaning the doctor's office next door called out to her that he could hear a fire alarm and see smoke coming over the top of her house.

Napoleon went into the back of the house and found smoke spewing from the stairway leading upstairs and yelled back, "It's my house! It's my house!" She called 911, and the two grabbed garden hoses and tried to fight the fire.

"If he hadn't come by, it could have been worse," she said.

The Wahiawa fire station is just up the street on California Avenue.

When firefighters arrived the fire had already gone through the roof of the house.

Fire investigators estimated damage at $75,000 to the house and $25,000 to its contents, according to fire Capt. Richard Soo.

The children stayed with relatives, while Kathie Napoleon spent the night at the house.

A fire investigator continued searching yesterday for what caused the fire.

Natalie Napoleon said, "A year ago, I was having dreams that the house would burn." She told her mom to check the electrical wiring and a lamp with frayed wiring.

She said the wiring in the rented house, which is about 50 years old, according to her mother, was probably old and should have been replaced.

"We were going to check but we never did," she said.

Kathie Napoleon had not been able to contact the homeowner, who is her cousin and a doctor for whom she works next door. She hopes his homeowner's insurance will cover the cost of replacing the two bedrooms and a bathroom lost, so her family can continue living at the house.

Napoleon spent Mother's Day sopping up water to prevent damage to the ohia wood floors in the living room. Kandyce cleaned soot off the downstairs walls with Kathie's sister-in-law, who brought a Mother's Day card with a generous gift tucked inside.

The Red Cross assisted with an $80 Kmart voucher to buy shoes and clothing for Natalie.

"I'm thankful I have good friends and family and a reliable fire department," Kathie Napoleon said.

"I'm most thankful that my family's OK. I think it's brought us all closer together," she said. "I guess that's what Mother's Day is all about."

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