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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Wai'alae couple escape house fire

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

A space heater near a living-room sofa likely caused a fire that destroyed an elderly couple's Wai'alae home this morning, a fire official said.

Fire Capt. Glenn Solem tries to determine the cause of a fire that destroyed a Wai'alae home on 22nd Avenue. The couple who lived in the home were treated for burns.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

A fire investigator is focusing on a sofa and a space heater next to it, said Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Richard Soo. It's possible that the space heater ignited a blanket or other object, Soo said.

Resident Harry Aka-mine, 85, braved flames and exploding glass to save his wife from the fire, neighbors said.

Neighbors said Aka-mine, who has a history of back and walking problems, grabbed his 85-year-old wife, Shizue, and pushed her down a staircase before saving himself from the fire.

Shizue Akamine told a neighbor she was preparing coffee for her husband, who was in another part of the house when the fire broke out.

"It's my understanding that he literally pushed her down the stairs," Soo said. "Because of his actions, she didn't become a fire fatality."

Four fire companies responded to the 6:06 a.m. fire at 1044 22nd Avenue and had the fire under control at 6:12 a.m., Soo said.

The Akamines were taken to the Queen's Medical Center for treatment.

Shizue Akamine suffered burns to her face and arms, while Harry Akamine was treated for burns on his hands, Soo said.

"Both of them were alert and conscious," Soo said. "When you look at their ages, both 85, he still had the wherewithal to aid his wife. His concern for his wife exceeded his concern for his own safety.

"Due to his effort and their neighbors, we surely feel that that was the reason why this didn't result in a tragic fatality."

After the fire, the couple's daughter thanked each of the firefighters who helped battle the blaze, Soo said.

"The daughter shook each of the firefighters' hands," Soo said. "I found that heartwarming. We're really happy with the job the neighbors did in helping each other out."

Neighbors said flames were 10 feet above the two-story wooden house, high enough to burn overhead electrical wires and hot enough to shatter windows.

Neighbor Robert Lum said he noticed something was wrong when he heard Henry Akamine "talking loud" next door.

"I looked through my jalousies and saw the fire," Lum said. "I called 911 and told my wife and my mother-in-law to get out of the house."

Lum rushed outside and said he was relieved to see his two neighbors were safe.

"That was my main concern," he said.

After seeing everyone was okay, Lum said he rushed back to his house, grabbed a garden hose and sprayed the Akamines' house and his house.

Lum managed to minimize damage to his house, but the fire had consumed the Akamines' house by that time, Lum said.

Neighbors said the Akamines had lived in the house for more than 40 years.

Fire officials estimated damage of $200,000 to the structure and $50,000 to the contents.