Fire kills Pearl City widow
• Photo gallery: Pearl City fire
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
PEARL CITY — A fast-moving house fire yesterday destroyed a one-story house and claimed the life of an 89-year-old widow who lived alone.
Relatives identified the victim as Lillian Sato. It was the first fire-related fatality on O'ahu this year.
Neighbor Ronald Ronquilio, 73, who has lived across the street from Sato for more than three decades, said he heard an explosion in the woman's home some time after noon, followed by popping sounds.
"Man, that fire went fast," said Ronquilio, who said he rushed over with a garden hose and began squirting water as others were trying to kick down the door. "The ball of flames was tremendous. And the smoke came rolling out."
Firefighters responded to the 12:27 p.m. alarm on Ho'olaule'a Street and declared the fire extinguished at 1:01 p.m.
It was not immediately known what started the fire that destroyed the home in which Sato had lived alone for years. Her husband, Gary Sato, died decades ago and her daughter and two sons had long since grown.
Sato's niece, Sharon Nakamoto, who grew up next door, said that in recent years family members had unplugged Sato's stove because they were afraid she might forget and leave something cooking on a burner.
Nakamoto, 59, said Sato was passionate about her yard, food and gambling.
"She loved to go to Vegas," Nakamoto said. "Loved to eat. Loved to pull the machines — like the rest of us."
At her home, she said, "everyone would see her on the road trying to sweep up the leaves. Some of them would tell her, 'Don't go out on the road.' But she insisted."
Ronald Sato, 66, Lillian Sato's oldest son, said, "Her house was her kingdom. Nobody could tell her what to do in her own house. She was very independent. She was the driver in the family.
"All the neighbors watched out for her because they knew she was getting old."
Lorraine Sugihara, Sato's younger sister and Nakamoto's mother, has lived next door to Sato's house since the 1950s, Nakamoto explained. Her mother and her aunt traveled to Las Vegas together every chance they could — two or three times a year — and visited with one another daily.
"I called her Mama-san," Ronquilio said. "She was really nice. Always pleasant. You could see her every day working in the yard. Get up early in the morning and pull weeds. She wouldn't allow one weed in her yard."
HFD spokesman Capt. Terry Seelig said the home was destroyed and that the loss of the structure and contents was estimated at $250,000. Investigators will continue their search for the cause of the fire today.