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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Family recounts horror of losing daughter to fire

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Staff Writer

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.

Brenda and Fuavasa Quirit, left, with son Vasa, 10, nephew Micah Moyle, 8, and grandmother Akesa Quirit mourn Marika Quirit, 12.

Brenda and Fuavasa Quirit hug their son and a nephew in front of the charred house where Marika died in a fire early Sunday.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

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.

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.

Investigators say it's still too early 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.

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.

To help the families

• Kaiser employees have set up a fund through City Bank. Checks made out to The Huihui and Quirit Recovery Fund may be mailed to or dropped off at any City Bank branch. Brenda Quirit and Linda Huihui, sisters whose families lived in the house, both work for Kaiser.

• The Safeway Human Resources office has set up a fund through Bank of Hawai'i. Checks made out to The Fuavasa Quirit Family Fund may be mailed to or dropped off at any Bank of Hawai'i branch. Fuavasa Quirit is produce manager at the Kailua Safeway.

Fire response

Here is a detailed account of the Honolulu Fire Department's response to Sunday's fatal fire. (A 911 call is routed first to the Honolulu Police Department.)

  • 3:23 a.m. First call to HFD
  • 3:26 a.m. Engine 17 responds
  • 3:28 a.m. Engine 17 on scene

Fatal fires

Here are the number of deaths from fires on O'ahu in the last 10 years.

  • 1994: 0
  • 1995: 0
  • 1996: 3
  • 1997: 11*
  • 1998: 3
  • 1999: 1
  • 2000: 3
  • 2001: 2
  • 2002: 1
  • 2003: 1
  • 2004: 4**

*Seven of the deaths were from a single fire in Palolo.

**As of Aug. 29. Includes 12-year-old Marika Quirit in Sunday's fire.

Source: Honolulu Fire Department

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

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, who just completed an addition on their home on the street behind the burned home.

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. His older sister had put in calls to the Red Cross on his behalf.

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 Peter Boylan contributed to this report. Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.