Saturday | December 16, 2017
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Propane blast intensifies Kona house fire

KAILUA-KONA — A fire engulfed a home Friday in Kona Acres and ignited a propane tank, causing a violent explosion that sprayed flaming shrapnel across a road and into adjacent lots.

At about 1 p.m., the Hawaii Fire Department received a report of a blaze on the corner of Paiaha Street and Kuakapu Street in Kailua-Kona at the home of Harold and Nadine Olinger, who share the residence with their adult daughter, Lori Ann.

Nadine Olinger said she heard what sounded like a firecracker then saw black smoke, after which she gathered her daughter and the family’s two dogs and exited the home.

Several neighbors assisted in their escape. Lori Ann Olinger uses a wheelchair and her mother is of an advanced age.

Nadine Olinger was visibly shaken as she recounted the traumatic event.

“The fire spread very fast,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “Then, there was an explosion. I’m so stunned by it all. I have everything in there.”

All three occupants of the home escaped unharmed and HFD reported no other fatalities or injuries, despite several neighbors who were outdoors in the vicinity of the blaze when the propane tank erupted.

Roman Kocharov, 18, who lives with his parents a few houses down from the Olingers, initially ran to the burning house to aid in the rescue. He later captured the explosion on video.

“I ran in their yard and I started trying to break in their door,” he said. “I thought a person was still in there.”

A few minutes later, after realizing everyone was out of the house safely, Kocharov made his way up the hill to a better vantage point to record video with his phone.

That’s when the explosion happened.

“The propane tank exploded and shrapnel flew everywhere,” Kocharov said. “The roof flew up in the air. I felt the heat. Yeah, it was crazy.”

Fiery debris rained down from the sky, starting a small fire in the yard across Kuakapu Street, which belongs to Nikki Sauer. Only one fire truck was on the scene at the time, so another neighbor, Colin Arford, began battling the secondary blaze himself.

“I yelled down to this (firefighter),” Arford said. “He ran me a hose so I had a bigger one to put out this fire. They were in the middle of extinguishing (the main fire), which was roaring.”

Sauer was at the airport when the fire started, but her mother and three children were all at home.

“(Arford) was a big help,” she said. “The fire would have clearly jumped and taken our place down.”

Sauer’s 14-year-old daughter, Iwa, also acted fast. Upon witnessing the blaze, she first secured her brother and sister, who are 8 and 4 years old, respectively. Then she called 911 and then her mother.

Not long after the explosion, several more responders arrived on the scene. Makalei Fire Station Capt. Mark Evans said Station 7 and Station 12 responded, as well as volunteers from Engine 7 Bravo. Hawaii police and the American Red Cross also were on scene.

The fire appeared to originate in the Olingers’ garage, taking two vehicles with it. No other property on adjacent lots was damaged. It took about two hours for HFD to contain the fire.

Battalion Chief Darwin Okinaka predicted the home would be a total loss. Evans said the cause of the blaze is under investigation.


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