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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fire guts rented home on Round Top Drive


Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A two-alarm blaze yesterday destroyed a house in Makiki Heights. A tenant recalled electrical problems in the bedroom, saying "none of the outlets were working."

PETER BLUM | Special to The Advertiser

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A noontime fire destroyed an older, wooden two-story home in Makiki Heights yesterday, but the two tenants who were renting the house were not home at the time.

"I had just left no more than 10 minutes earlier when I got a call from the contractors working on our remodeling job telling me the house we were staying in was burning down," tenant Kai Cowell said.

Cowell and her husband, Dan Cowell, had been renting the home at 2182 Round Top Drive for the past 18 months while their house, next door at 2186 Round Top Drive, was being remodeled.

"We were thinking the remodeled house was going to be ready to move into in another 10 days or so. We'll just have to move in a little earlier than we had expected," Dan Cowell said.

The fire broke out a little before 12:25 p.m. It was declared extinguished at 2:05 p.m., but not before the two-alarm blaze had totaled the rented house.

The roof and most of the second story caved in during the fire.

"The first thing that came to my mind was that we had been having a problem with (electrical) shorts in the bedroom. None of the outlets were working," Kai Cowell said.

She said workers at the remodeled house smelled smoke, went to investigate and found the fire had broken out in a bedroom on the ground level of the rented home the same bedroom where the the wall outlets had stopped working.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, Fire Capt. Terry Seelig said. Damage was estimated at $625,000 to the building and $25,000 to its contents.

Cowell is the owner of Kaiulani's Spices, a spice wholesaler. Brian Slemons, who works for the spice company, said the firm's raw spices are kept in a cottage on the grounds of the remodeled house and weren't damaged by the fire.

But Cowell said many of the household possessions that belonged to her and her husband of 30 years had been moved to the rented home to make way for the remodeling project.

FEARED THE WORST

Marita Salassa, who lives across the street at 2181 Round Top Drive, feared the worst.

"By the time I smelled smoke, the fire engines were all racing up here and the neighborhood dogs were going crazy," Salassa said.

For a few anxious moments, Salassa was concerned the fire might spread down the hill to her home.

Salassa, who has lived in the area for about 30 years, hiked up the driveway to shoot several pictures of the charred remains, saying she had never seen a house so devastated by fire.

About four blocks down the hillside neighbors Susan May and Leinani Borteles were concerned, at least initially, that the blaze might have spread and was coming their way.

"I was scared enough to start putting (keepsakes) in a large laundry basket," May said.