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Kona Acres home explodes

Updated: 
August 12, 2017 - 11:34am

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

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

Nadine 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 from the house, which HFD Battalion Chief Darwin Okinaka predicted would be a total loss. Lori Ann is in a wheelchair and Nadine is of an advanced age.

Nadine 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 the incident unharmed. HFD reported no fatalities or injuries involved with the fire, despite several neighbors who were outdoors in the vicinity of the blaze when the propane tank erupted.

Roman Kocharov, 18, lives with his parents a few houses down from the Olinger residence. He captured the explosion on video, which can be viewed on the WHT Facebook page, after initially running to the burning house to aid in the rescue.

“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.”

Colin Arford, 33, who lives about a block from the Olinger home, also responded quickly upon seeing the blaze. He was in the yard across the street when the tank blew, saying he later spoke to someone who heard the blast from a few miles away.

“First thing I thought was that it was a bomb,” he said.

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 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. Then she called her mother.

Her grandmother had gone to the aid of the Olingers, and so after making sure her siblings were OK, Iwa headed outside.

“I went to go make sure everything was all right with Uncle Olly (Harold Olinger) and make sure my grandmother didn’t get into any trouble,” she chuckled. “I thought she might run into the (flaming) house.”

Iwa, too, was on the street when the tank exploded, sending flaming projectiles speeding off in all directions above her head.

“It was kind of scary at first,” she said.

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

The fire appeared to originate in the Olingers’ garage, taking two vehicles with it. Okinaka said one was a classic ‘50s Chevy and said the other looked to be a BMW of some sort. No other property on adjacent lots was damaged. After around two hours, HFD had completely contained the fire.

“For the most part, because of the way this was happening, the other structures weren’t exposed so much,” Evans said. “They were far enough away so that other than that shrapnel that flew over there, they weren’t being affected.”

Evans added the cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

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