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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 10:04 a.m., Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Family recounts horror of losing daughter to fire

By Beverly Creamer
and Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writers

With an arm around his wife, his son and a nephew clutching his legs, Fuavasa Quirit spoke softly yesterday about the loss of his 12-year-old daughter in a fire that gutted the family's Kane'ohe home.

Every so often he reached down to stroke his son's head in comfort, and to pat his nephew, who was weeping quietly.

"It's OK, little man," Quirit said, bending to kiss his son's head. "We'll get through this.

"Thank God the boys was with us, or this would have been worse."

As family gathered for support after the Sunday morning blaze that killed Marika Quirit, the girl's parents spoke publicly for the first time about the child who loved everyone "and wanted to do so much with her life."

Nearby, stuffed animals and bobbing balloons left on a chain-link fence outside the charred and blackened home served as mute reminders of the tragedy that struck this Kane'ohe neighborhood, and the child who brought joy to everyone she touched.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Fire investigators today were still trying to determine the cause of the 3 a.m. blaze that gutted the house at 45-324 Kulauli Street, collapsing the roof into the living room. Marika was trapped in a bedroom at the back of the house, where flames, heat and smoke prevented her family from saving her.

"It's not unusual to take a few days to find the cause," said Capt. Kenison Tejada, fire department spokesman.

Officials said yesterday that fire companies were at the house within five minutes of the initial 911 call. Officials had said some neighbors complained response time was too slow.

Honolulu Fire Department Assistant Chief Ken Silva said HFD 911 dispatchers received the first call at 3:23 a.m., and fire companies from Station No. 17 were dispatched at 3:25 a.m. Engine 17 signaled that it was responding at 3:26 a.m. and was on the scene at 3:28 a.m.

The fire department's standard for suburban areas such as Kane'ohe is a nine-minute response time, Tejada said.

As her parents relived the terrifying moments inside their burning home yesterday, Marika's 6-foot-3, 300-pound father spoke of crawling down the hall bathed in smoke and intense heat, yelling her name as he tried to reach his daughter's room.

"I try going into her room," he said, "but couldn't do nothing. Too hot."

Outside, Brenda Quirit was screaming "my baby, my baby" as her husband desperately tried to save two other members of the family. When he couldn't reach his daughter, he retreated outside, turning a garden hose on her room through a window and banging on the wall of his sister-in-law's room to awaken her. Linda Huihui and her son, Kalae, escaped through a window, flames licking at their heels.

Twin sisters Brenda and Linda lived in the homes with their families, including three children.

The back bedroom was the kids' bedroom, with a bunk bed for Marika's brother, "Vasa" Jr., 10, and cousin Kalae Huihui, 7, and a queen-size bed for her because she was "a wild sleeper" who thrashed, said her grandmother, Marilyn Huihui.

The boys weren't in their beds Saturday night. They chose to sleep with their parents because those rooms were air-conditioned, and the night was hot. Marika slept alone, a fan blasting cool air in her direction.

Family members haven't been able to sleep since the fire. At 3 a.m. yesterday, 24 hours after the blaze, Linda Huihui called her mother after sirens wailed through the neighborhood again, bringing flashbacks of the night before. Their house — the dream home they'd finally been able to afford — had begun to smolder, and firefighters came to douse it. The family is staying with relatives in the same neighborhood.

Earlier that night, the family had rushed Marika's brother to Castle Medical Center Emergency Room because he was having trouble breathing. Doctors said Vasa, who has asthma, was suffering an anxiety attack in the wake of his sister's death.

Yesterday, a constant stream of friends began arriving bearing food and comfort. The family, which has close bonds throughout the Islands, has moved in temporarily with Fuavasa's sister, Francis Mafua, and her husband, David.

Kane'ohe Elementary School principal Mitchell Otani, where Marika was a student through last year, stopped by to offer help. He alerted King Intermediate School principal Cynthia Chun that many of Marika's friends, seventh-graders at her school, might need counseling.

"We pulled out the names of students from Kane'ohe Elementary," said Chun, "to let the teachers know who has gone through elementary with her, so staff could be aware if the students needed support."

From Iraq, uncle Abel Huihui was appealing for emergency leave to be with his family. Huihui is serving with A Company of the 411th Army Reserve battalion, deployed in March to rebuild critical installations.

Marika's death is hitting the children especially hard. Seven-year-old Kalae was anguished. It was Marika who walked him home from school every day, helped him with homework, was cousin and big sister all in one.

"Kalae told his mother, 'Marika can't help me with my homework now,' " said grandmother Huihui. "It was Marika who made sure the cousin and the brother got started on their homework. They had their snacks, and if they needed help, she would help."

As the family spoke yesterday, it was her brother, Vasa, who said what was in everyone's heart. "I love her," he said through tears he is finally beginning to shed.

"I miss her."

Advertiser staff writer David Waite contributed to this report. Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.