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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 1, 2006

Fire damages Waipahu home

By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer

Firefighters finish up after putting out a fire at a Waipahu home. The blaze, possibly sparked by a barbecue in the back yard, broke out at around 8 a.m. yesterday. Those inside the home left quickly and no one was injured, but the fire did an estimated $135,000 in damage.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Romana Sagisi, 89, watches her burned home from a neighbor's property across the street. She and her husband have owned the house since 1961 and have tenants also living there.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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WAIPAHU Nine-year-old Rizza Ann DelaCruz had time to grab only one of her most prized possessions yesterday morning after her mother woke her with the news that their home was on fire.

She paused just long enough to retrieve the brand-new Nintendo game, the one her parents had bought her the day before.

Her 5-year-old brother, Mark Harvey DelaCruz, latched on to an equally valuable commodity, the Nintendo battery charger, on his way out of the burning building at 94-474 Pilimai St. in Waipahu.

Their mother, Shirley Maria DelaCruz, said she heard the elderly homeowner who is her landlord and who also lives in the house just after 8 a.m. yelling something about a fire.

"He was telling his sister-in-law (who lives in the house next door) to call the fire department," DelaCruz said. "The home was still burning so I had to wake up my children and tell them to get out of there."

DelaCruz said her husband had left for work about 3 a.m., so it was up to her to get the children out and make sure they were safe.

At 9 a.m., she stood in a neighbor's carport across the street watching as firefighters completed mopping up.

Homeowners Agapito and Romana Sagisi also waited in the carport driveway, unable to return to their home of the past 45 years until fire officials gave them the OK.

Romana sat in a chair that someone brought over to her and dabbed her eyes occasionally while Agapito stood near his daughter, Veronica Saguibo, looking a bit bewildered as she patiently answered questions about the fire.

Saguibo said her nephew had called to tell her about the fire and that she rushed to the scene from her home on Hiapo Street a couple of blocks away.

"I don't know how much damage there is the home was only smoking when I got there and I haven't been able to look inside yet," Saguibo said.

"My mother told me my father went out behind the house and was making a fire for a barbecue. I think the fire came up big and he panicked when it got out of control."

She later said her father suffers from Alzheimer's disease and is normally kept under close watch.

"We normally don't allow him to do things like that, but I guess he just decided on his own to start the fire for the Fourth of July party even though it's not until Tuesday," Saguibo said.

She said her father came to Hawai'i in 1945 from the Philippines to work in the sugar cane fields.

He and his wife bought the house on Pilimai Street in 1961, Saguibo said.

"They were the second owners and the rest of us came up that year to live with them. There are so many memories in that house," she said, gazing across the street.

From the front, there was little to indicate there had been a fire. But blackened trees and scrub brush on the hillside behind the home bore silent witness to the blaze.

Fire Capt. Terry Seelig credited quick work by firefighters from the Waipahu fire station in keeping the damage to a minimum. The fire was reported at 8:27 a.m. and the Waipahu crew was at the scene three minutes later, Seelig said. The fire was reported under control at 8:54 a.m.

"We know the fire started outside the house and spread to the back of the house," Seelig said.

The exact cause of the fire had not been determined as of yesterday morning, Seelig said. Damage was estimated at about $120,000 to the structure and about $15,000 to the contents.

"The first (fire) company arrived to see flames in the back and knocked them down very quickly it was what we call 'a good stop.' The firefighters were able to stop the fire very quickly from spreading," Seelig said.

The older, single-wall wooden homes in the area can be engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes after a fire starts, Seelig said.

A hazardous materials response unit was also called to the fire because there were reports of household pesticides having been stored in lockers in back of the home under the covered lanai.

Seelig said firefighters intended to tear down what remained of the lanai roof before turning the home back over to the owners.

He said workers from the American Red Cross Hawaii office would be called to tend to the needs of the six people displaced by the fire.

Reach David Waite at dwaite@honoluluadvertiser.com.