Ronald Benkler, a resident of 98-150 Lipoa Place, inspected what was left of the apartment complex following a fire early yesterday that has left 10 homeless.

2 blazes on Oahu
leave 18 homeless

A stove fire is to blame in Aiea,
and arson is suspected
in Waianae

Two fires during the weekend destroyed a two-story apartment building in Aiea and a single-family Waianae home, displacing at least 18 people and causing more than $690,000 in damage.

About 30 firefighters worked alongside residents with garden hoses to put out a blaze early yesterday morning at the Pepper Tree Apartment Hotel complex, at 98-150 Lipoa Place in Aiea.

Fire Capt. Emmit Kane said a 12-unit apartment building was destroyed in the fire, leaving at least 10 people homeless.

"Everybody in that building was displaced," Kane said, adding that some residents are off island and have yet to be reached. "Red Cross is still trying to locate all the individuals affected."

The blaze started around 1 a.m. when a cooking stove in Unit 409 was accidentally left on, Kane said.

Witnesses said flames tore through the building's top floors first, blowing out windows, shooting off balconies and filling the air with thick black smoke.

Then, fire swept through the attic and caused a section of the roof to collapse.

"It was a raging inferno. That's what it looked like," said Florence Lerback, a security guard at the complex who helped to alert sleeping residents of the fire. "The entire building is totally going to be demolished."

The apartment's first floor sustained mostly smoke and water damage. In some units, sections of ceiling caved in.

Damage to the building is estimated at $350,000. The loss of its contents totals about $100,000, Kane said.

The blaze also jumped to a neighboring complex but was put out before it could spread to any units.

Costs to repair that apartment building are estimated at $30,000.

Most of the Pepper Tree residents were asleep when the fire started. Kane and several people displaced in the fire said it is a miracle that no one was injured or killed.

"Everyone got out in a very orderly fashion," said Donna Eriksen, who moved about a month ago into the apartment directly under the unit where the fire started.

"When we got there, most of the residents were already out," Kane said. "As soon as they became aware of the fire, they self-evacuated."

Eriksen said she woke up just before 1 a.m. because she heard a "popping" and smelled something burning.

"It seemed very noisy," she said, "I thought, 'Somebody's partying.' ... But the minute I looked through the curtains, I could see the glow of the fire."

That was when Eriksen woke her husband, and both "skedaddled out the front door."

In Unit 402, Brian Dowd was awakened when he heard one of the building's managers yell, "Fire!" He went outside his unit to help, thinking the blaze was in a nearby apartment. But he felt heat on the top of his head and realized that the fire was above him.

"The whole top floor was being razed," he said. "I just threw on some clothes quickly ... and started knocking on doors."

Dowd also tried to contain the blaze with a garden hose.

"I did the best I could to try to hold it out," he said. "We were fortunate in the end. Everybody was ... fine and that's the most important thing."

Charo Feliciano, a manager at the apartment complex, said she has placed some of those whose units were destroyed into other apartments. Red Cross of Hawaii put up others in hotels.

Less than four hours before the Aiea fire, a Waianae home went up in flames.

Red Cross is assisting a family of eight that was left homeless in the blaze at 86-550 Mailiili Road.

Cassandra Isidro, Red Cross chief operating officer, said the family was placed in a hotel. Volunteers were working with the victims yesterday to help them "on other needs," including getting clothing and food, she said.

Damage to the building is estimated at about $180,000. The loss of its contents was totaled at $30,000.

Kane said the fire was intentionally set, and police are investigating.

Criminal Investigation Division detectives said yesterday that there have been no arrests and no suspects had been identified.

About 30 firefighters were called to the home at about 9:30 p.m. Saturday. The fire was under control within minutes.

No one was home when the fire started, Kane said.



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