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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 14, 2010

Couples lose homes to fire

By William Cole
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The fire started at one house on Ala Hoku Place in Moanalua Valley, then spread to a home next door.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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MOANALUA VALLEY A fast-moving fire yesterday destroyed a house and heavily damaged a house next door, forcing two couples out of the homes that they had lived in for 40 or more years.

No one was injured in either of the homes, but an adolescent in a third home was treated and released at the scene for difficulty breathing.

Gordon and Jean Leong's single-story home at 1389 Ala Hoku Place, where they had lived in since 1966, was destroyed.

The exterior was charred and the carport had collapsed onto the couple's 2010 Lincoln, which was purchased two weeks ago and had just 220 miles on the odometer.

Several soggy photo albums that firefighters salvaged lay on the curb.

Gordon Leong said he was home alone and had come out to the front of the house when he heard crackling sounds.

"Really got loud. Crack! Crack! I saw smoke coming out from the back of my house," he said. "It was spooky. It went real fast. The house was down in five minutes."

Flames at one point were licking 20 feet above the roof of the home.

Leong said he wasn't sure how the fire started.

Honolulu Fire Capt. Terry Seelig estimated the loss of the Leongs' home at $370,000. The house next door at 1385 Ala Hoku Place, which belongs to Lori and Ralph Ah Sam, sustained an estimated $300,000 in damage.

The Ah Sams' cream-colored house sustained fire damage throughout its roof.

Gordon Leong said he felt bad that the fire damaged his neighbor's house as well, but he was thankful for the help that came on Ala Hoku Place.

"The neighbors are really helpful people," Leong said.

He was in good spirits despite the loss.

"It's going to hit me in about an hour," Leong said. "I'm OK, I guess. I'm numb."

Fourteen fire companies and about 70 firefighters total responded to the 2:43 p.m. fire because it had spread to two homes, Seelig said.

An electrical line came down in the fire and was arcing on the street. Power was cut to part of the block and the Hawaiian Electric Co. was working last night to restore power.

Seelig said it was not immediately determined where the fire began.

Lori Ah Sam, whose house was damaged next door, was standing out front on the sidewalk with neighbors after the fires were extinguished. She had not been back into the house she has lived in for 40 years.

"The whole top is gone. The bedroom on the other side there's nothing. It's devastating," she said. Ah Sam said the Leongs, who are in their 70s, are her classmates from Maryknoll School.

She was at work at the Circuit Court building and her husband, Ralph, was at home when the fire broke out.

Neighbor Mark Rondot, 35, who lives a few houses down, arrived home to see Ralph Ah Sam trying to beat back the flames between the houses with a garden hose.

Rondot said he was trying to get Ralph Ah Sam away from the property.

"I saw what he didn't see the fire already had jumped to his roof above him," Rondot said.

Lori Ah Sam said her husband heard the cracking sound next door and didn't know what it was.

"He came out and saw the house next door in flames," she said. "He said it went up so fast."

Asked what she thinks about losing in the fire, Lori Ah Sam said, "Everything. You just don't know you are missing until you think of stuff and then you think of the memories. But at least no one got hurt."

The American Red Cross was on the scene offering help.

The Leongs will be staying with a daughter and the Ah Sams said they are going to stay with a son in Maka-kilo.

"I guess we're going to have to repair it," Lori Ah Sam said of their house. "I don't know how long it will take for the insurance."

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