‘It was a ball of fire’
By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Several neighbors of a disabled Honomu man came to his aid early Wednesday morning when his home erupted in flames.
Anthony Aguinaldo, of 28-1706 Puako St., was transported to Hilo Medical Center after a family member who lives with him — reportedly his nephew — and neighbors on Puako Street helped the man escape the blaze around 6 a.m. Several neighbors said the man had recently returned to live in the house after an extended hospital stay.
Firefighters were still on the scene at about 9:45 a.m., dousing any hotspots to prevent the fire from rekindling.
Firefighters reported responding to the 6:14 a.m. alarm, with the first unit arriving at 6:31 a.m, according to the Hawaii County Fire Department. Upon arrival, they reported finding the single-family dwelling “fully involved in fire with the roof collapsed.”
The occupant had already exited the home, and was transported to HMC in stable condition.
The fire was put out by 7:30 a.m., according to the Fire Department.
Firefighters assessed the damage to the home at approximately $60,000, saving about $15,000 worth of the structure. Aguinaldo is listed on county tax records as the owner of the single-story, 1,600-square-foot home.
A neighbor across the street from the house, who did not wish to give his name, said that Aguinaldo, known by Honomu residents as “Uncle Dukie,” had trouble walking.
“He has really bad knees and hips and can’t get around well,” he said.
The neighbor responded when Aguinaldo’s nephew came running up to his house shouting for help around 6 a.m., he said.
“He (Aguinaldo) had already gotten out of the house. But we wanted to get him away from the house, because there was a propane tank on the side. We didn’t want to be near it in case it blew,” he said.
The neighbor and one or two other men wrapped Aguinaldo in a blanket and helped drag him up the driveway, away from the home. About five minutes later, the safety valve on the propane tank released, causing a loud booming sound, followed by a steady hiss.
The neighbor added that Aguinaldo did not appear to have sustained any burns from the fire, but said he got a few scrapes and bruises as a result of their attempts to drag him up the rocky driveway.
Another man around the corner said he also helped to move Aguinaldo, but he, too, did not wish to be identified.
“I heard screaming and I came running,” he said. “He was already in the front yard. I just helped him get up to the street.”
Puako Street resident Carolyn Okonek said a neighbor came knocking on her door to warn her about the fire.
“I just grabbed my camera and ran out there. It was a ball of fire. All we could see, everything was engulfed in flames,” she said.
Okonek said that when the propane tank’s release valve went off, everyone could hear a loud hissing.
“That’s when the police told us, ‘Everybody get out.’ They didn’t want us anywhere near it,” she said.
Barney Sheffield, disaster coordinator for the American Red Cross in Hawaii County, said his office was notified of the fire at 6:40 a.m. Wednesday.
“At this time, he (Aguinaldo) is hospitalized,” Sheffield said at about 8:30 a.m. “Once he is released, we will do an interview, and see how we can help, be it with food, clothing, or even a temporary place to stay until he gets back on his feet.”
Aguinaldo was in the emergency room at HMC at about noon, according to a nurse who answered the phone, but could not be reached for comment.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.
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