By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A house fire early Friday morning left a family of five homeless for the holidays.
Nine units, including four engine companies, responded to the 12:40 a.m. fire at 85 Hoku St. in Hilo, but the house was fully engulfed in flames upon their arrival and the structure was deemed a total loss.
Fire officials estimated the damage at $68,500.
“We got woken up. It was the firefighters and the neighbors telling us it was a fire,” said a neighbor who identified herself only as Claudia. “By the time we got out front, it was engulfed. Flames were just pouring out the windows.”
The fire was brought under control at 1:10 a.m. and extinguished at 1:20 a.m., according to the Fire Department. An unoccupied adjacent home on the property sustained minor fire damage, as well.
Barney Sheffield, local disaster services coordinator for the American Red Cross, said that five people, three adults and two children, were displaced by the fire. The Fire Department said three of them were home at the time, but escaped the dwelling safely.
“They were OK,” Claudia said. “They were a little shaken up; they didn’t know what happened. I’m just thankful they got out. They came by today and just picked up some of their belongings and stuff.”
Claudia described the family as “really nice people,” including a young couple, their son, and the man’s aunt. She didn’t mention a fifth family member, but said the mother, whom she knew only as “Pua,” is pregnant.
Sheffield said the Red Cross is providing emergency shelter for the family. He said their identities are confidential.
“We got them some clothing and some food and some new bedding to help them get started again, hopefully enough to get them over the hurdle,” he said. “I’m sure they’re hurting right now because it’s Christmas, so we’ve tried to help them as much as we could.”
Caseworkers will continue to follow up with the family to ensure their immediate needs are met, and to provide referrals to assist with their disaster recovery.
The home is owned by the Rudolfo family trust. Laycie-Ann Tobosa, a Rudolfo family member, said the home was built in the 1930s and the family has owned it since the 1970s. She said she didn’t know the occupants, but described them as previously homeless, and added that they were staying in the house rent-free with another family member’s permission.
“I used to live in that house as a child; I grew up in that house,” Tobosa said. “My grandfather bought the house. There are two houses that used to be two separate properties and then he built a duplex, so there are four units on the property.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation, according to the Fire Department.
“We were there last night and talking to the investigators,” Tobosa said. “They’re doing their investigation, and we’re just pretty much waiting for information from the investigators and the police.”
Tobosa said the house wasn’t insured.
Sheffield said he didn’t know how the fire started, but advised people not to use candles.
“Out of the last six fires we’re responded to, three of them have been started by candles,” he said.
The Red Cross encourages all families to make a disaster plan, including an evacuation plan with two different routes of escape, a communications plan to help families reconnect after disaster and a disaster supplies kit that is readily available to aid in a quick evacuation. Information on developing a family plan is available at www.redcross.org, or a brochure is available by calling (808) 734-2101.
The Red Cross provides free assistance to disaster victims and depends on contributions to help others. To help, send a check to: American Red Cross, 55 Ululani St., Hilo, HI 96720.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.