My middle child, Zac, had just grumbled that he was bored. He was rolling around on the floor, lamenting that his little brother Alex was off doing his own thing in the next room, when the noisy bunch of kids in the driveway (which included his big sister Katie) suddenly got noisier. The young voices had been shouting all afternoon, but they were suddenly sustained, high pitched, and pulsing. One word emerged as a chant: “Fire!”
I ran out to investigate, joining the gaggle of kids gawking at the roof of the townhouse one unit down from ours. Sure enough, there was brownish gray smoke seeping out of the seams and wafting out the windows. I ran back in, and called everyone out of the house. The kids ran to pound on the doors of all the neighbors. More than a few people dialed 911.
Time seemed to pass slowly, which is to say the fire seemed to grow quickly. It wasn’t long before we saw licks of orange burning away roof materials, and the smoke billowing into the completely clear, blue Mililani sky.
There was shouting inside the burning unit, as the contractors that had been working on the place tried to put the fire out themselves. Eventually, one ran out and shouted for the other to give up. They quickly jumped in their trucks to move them out of the driveway, but wisely stuck around. The townhouse was gutted and empty, in the middle of a major renovation, so whatever sparked the blaze probably had something to do with their work.
As the first, then second fire engine arrived, we moved everyone to the grassy field in back of the townhouse complex. There we were joined by a growing group of concerned and curious neighbors. One of my neighbors, who wasn’t home, called periodically for updates. Three engines on the scene. Four. Five. HPD closed the street. Firefighters were on the roof.
Eventually, friends of ours down the block volunteered their yard as a holding pen for the kids. We moved there, trying to comfort Katie and Zac, who were worried about Charlie, our cat. Alex, fortunately, was oblivious, and found the whole adventure no more interesting than any other walk around the block.
We watched as more firefighters and police officers arrived, and noted the many yellow hoses fat with water that were snaking everywhere. We saw sprays of water over the roof and a river of water flooding out of the driveway. And the fire was put out quickly. We eventually saw a group of six firefighters converge and start picking at the hole in the roof, and decided it was safe to go back.
The fire chief arrived, as did the local media: KGMB, KITV, and KHON, as well as a couple of freelance photographers. Our driveway was clogged with big yellow trucks and other vehicles with flashing lights. KGMB ventured into the heart of the operation first, talking to my family, my neighbors, and the fire crew. Katie was interviewed on camera, as was Michael Hart, the neighbor who was in the adjacent unit when the fire broke out. Then the press formed a neat semicircle to get the official statement from the fire department spokesman, Capt. Earle Kealoha.
Though only preliminary, he said that it looked like a plumbing contractor was welding or working with some copper piping in the kitchen, and insulation within the walls was ignited. It burned up and then out, damaging the kitchen and the upstairs bedroom. Nobody was hurt, though there was significant smoke and water damage to the two units.
The fire made for an unexpectedly exciting Sunday, to be sure. Our cat was missing for a few hours, but eventually emerged from under (or somewhere deep inside) our couch. Even now, there’s a faint smoky smell to everything in the house.
More notably, the fire also canceled a tenting and fumigation operation scheduled for today. We had already spent much of the day clearing our freezer and fridge and putting foodstuffs in special bags, and plotting how to capture the cat for his trip to the kennel. The kids were very excited about the prospect of staying in a hotel overnight, and now they’re bummed that they’ll be sleeping at home, after all. We grown-ups are understandably relieved that we’ve still got homes to sleep in.
(Did you know the Pagoda Hotel had a special “fumigation rate”? We didn’t, until we called to cancel.)
More than a few friends who heard about the fire have asked where my video footage was, or why I didn’t lifecast the whole thing, live over the web. I admit, I did feel the nagging instinct to document everything. Yet I only took one photo of the fire just as it reached the roof, and well before the biggest flames. And the rest of my pictures are from the aftermath.
But ultimately, I stuck with my family and mostly worked with our neighbors to keep the kids’ corralled and safe. Twitter was my primary outlet while everything unfolded. And fortunately, the mainstream media documented the fire well enough.
News video footage courtesy KGMB.