WAHIAWA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Fire Department investigators are trying to determine was started a blaze that gutted a home in Wahiawa Sunday.
The fire was reported at about 9:45 a.m. Sunday at the home at 41 Koele Lane between California and Olive Avenues. A fire department spokesman said by the time the first units arrived just four minutes later, the house was already engulfed in flames.
"By the time I came out I was banging on the walls and the back door. I couldn't get the back door open," said neighbor Hugh Erminger. "I was yelling his name, 'Get out, get out you guys!' Couldn't do anything.
The scene became dangerous when canisters of oxygen in the house began exploding. "They have medical oxygen in the house that one of the residents used. And the tanks failed due to buildup of pressure from the fire," said Honolulu Fire Capt. Gary Lum.
"Our neighbor's house was in flames. Had the wire falling down, the oxygen tanks blowing up all over the place," said Alan Caraulia, who lives two houses away.
"We rushed over see if we could help and then we started to hear the cracking (and) popping, and then the cylinders or something like that exploding," said Alan's father, Alvin Caraulia. "So we all scattered, and then I noticed through the smoke, one shot up about as high as a telephone pole. And as we scattered, another one blew off." That cylinder flew into the air and hit a house and car across the street, causing minor damage to the vehicle's driver's side headlight.
Fire officials and neighbors said a man in his 60s and his son lived in the residence, but were not home at the time of the blaze. "His son used oxygen, so he had like 12 oxygen bottles or more stacked outside the house," said Erminger. "When I came running in, I was running through a war zone."
Lum said initial indications are that the fire began in or near the garage.
"I know he was mechanically inclined, so he did a lot of work on cars, and I think they stored a lot of chemicals there, like the oil and stuff like that," said Alvin Caraulia.
No damage estimate was immediately available, but Lum said it appears that the house was a total loss. the American Red Cross was notified to offer assistance to the residents.