Neighbors recount fatal Ocean View fire

  • Only ashes remain after fire incinerated a home in Ocean View, killing the occupant. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Only ashes remain after fire incinerated a home in Ocean View, killing the occupant. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Fire engulfs a home in Ocean View Thursday morning. (Courtesy photo/Les Garbis)

  • Kyle Keezer shows where he saw flames engulfing a home in Ocean View. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

OCEAN VIEW — Chuck Henry described his neighborhood street in Ocean View as somber the day after a raging house fire took the life of his friend who lived across the road.

“It’s almost surreal now,” Henry said Friday. “I’m just shocked. I just spoke to him a few days ago.”

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Hawaii Fire Department personnel responded to the 92-2000 block of Kailua Boulevard after a witness called in a house fire at about 9:40 a.m. Thursday. Upon arrival, firefighters found a single-story home engulfed in flames and on the verge of collapse. Bystanders informed responders there might be someone inside the home.

While police have not officially identified the victim, neighbors in the area know the individual to be the resident of the home.

A Fire Department official said he believed the victim was a 92-year-old male, but Henry said Friday his neighbor was 82.

On Thursday morning, Henry said he had gone to the grocery store, checked his mail and as he started to come home his quiet street was abuzz with police and firefighters.

“The flames, they must’ve been 80 feet high,” Henry said as he recalled the structure fire.

Henry knew his friend and neighbor had propane tanks and guns, and could hear the ammunition going off in the flames.

After firefighters extinguished the flames, a body was discovered in the remnants of the dwelling.

The identity of the victim and the cause of the fire are still under investigation. Authorities have currently classified it as a fire and an unattended death investigation, which is being conducted by the Area II Criminal Investigation Section.

An autopsy has been ordered to determine the exact cause of death.

Henry knew his neighbor for 19 years.

“He had a beautiful house that he built by himself,” he said of his friend. “It was a giant home with a dome roof.”

The blaze reduced the home to rubble and ash.

On the lot below the house fire, Les Garbis and Kyle Keezer were setting footings for a new home, Friday. They were also on site the morning of the fire.

“I thought someone was burning trash then it got too big,” Garbis said. “It took 22 minutes to burn to the ground.”

Garbis called 911. Keezer said he ran up to the house to check if anyone was home.

“When I got up there ashes where floating in the air,” he said. “I was hollering, ‘Anybody up there!’”

Keezer described the front-door handle as glowing red hot and the frame around the door was also exuding heat.

“There was a bucket of water that I threw on the fire, but it evaporated in mid-air,” Keezer said.

After a window blew out, he left the property and offered assistance to firefighters.

Bystanders heard several popping sounds and explosions.

“It was freaking me out,” said Susan Richten, owner of the property Garbis and Keezer were working at Thursday and Friday. “They (explosions) were huge. It sounded like you were in a war zone.”

The scary thing, Richten added, was how the flames spread up and around the property, scorching nearby trees. There was a fear of it spreading.

The flames were contained to the structure and nearby trees. No other properties were damaged.

Henry said his neighbor was a nice and generous guy — a hard worker every day. He wanted to do everything himself.

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“He’s the kind of guy if his house on fire he wouldn’t call the fire department, he’d try to fight it himself,” he said.

Anyone with information related to the incident should contact Detective Pernell Hanoa at (808) 326-4646, ext. 281, or at pernell.hanoa@hawaiicounty.gov.

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