Michael MacPhee surveyed the charred rubble of the Ahualoa home where he lived with his 56-year-old mother, Victoria, and where her life ended in a tragic house fire Tuesday night.
“It’s gone, all melted,” MacPhee, a 39-year-old butcher, said Wednesday. “There’s city water lines here but no hydrants.”
The Kahana Drive home is less than four miles from the Honokaa Fire Station, but the rural, winding, one-lane roads between Highway 19 and the 27-acre former dairy farm where the MacPhees lived made it a major task for first responders, especially fire trucks, to get there in a timely manner. According to a written Fire Department statement, the alarm was received at 8:20 p.m. The first unit responded five minutes later and arrived at 8:34 p.m. Thirteen units responded, but the house was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.
The fire was reported under control at 10:33 p.m. and extinguished at 3:36 a.m. Wednesday morning.
MacPhee said his mother, who had health problems, was home alone when the fire started; he was out grocery shopping.
“Neighbors called me as I was driving up the hill (toward home),” MacPhee said. His mother’s body was found by police and firefighters after the fire was extinguished. “I just talked to her a little while earlier.”
A faint odor of smoke continued to waft from the home’s remains on Wednesday afternoon. Among the litter was a bathtub, a bathroom sink, the inner springs of a mattress and sheets of the corrugated metal roof. The house, valued at about $300,000, was a total loss.
“I don’t know what to do right now,” MacPhee said. “We tried doing everything we could do last night. What can you do now?”
MacPhee described his mother as “kind of a homebody.” He said she enjoyed horseback riding, but could no longer ride due to a back injury suffered in a fall from a horse.
Police had not yet officially released Victoria MacPhee’s identity as of press time Wednesday and said an autopsy would be conducted. The cause of the fire is under investigation as well.
“The investigators came in,” MacPhee said. “They hadn’t found anything. No accelerants.”
MacPhee said that neighbors came calling Tuesday night to offer their help.
“They’ve all offered a room,” MacPhee said, adding, “They’ve been bringing food down.”
MacPhee said he’s not sure what he’ll do about his living situation, noting there are other structures on the property he can stay in.
“I can always find a cot,” he said.
He said relatives are en route from the mainland.
The local chapter of the American Red Cross has also responded and is accepting contributions to help. Checks can be mailed to: American Red Cross, Hawaii State Chapter, 55 Ululani St., Hilo, HI 96720. Donations can also be made by phone at (808) 739-8109 online at hawaiiredcross.org.
Police ask anyone with information on the fire to contact Detective Joel Field at 961-2381 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Those who prefer anonymity may call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300, and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.