LAWA‘I — When smoke started burning his eyes early Friday as he lay asleep in bed, Courtney Clark thought a neighbor was burning waste.
“I woke up and smelled smoke,” Clark said. “I opened my door and was hit by a wall of flames.”
The Lawa‘i home Clark lived in was razed that day by the fire that started at 4:30 in the morning, forcing the two occupants to flee. Clark and his roommate, Jacob Chow, were able to escape the burning home with little more than the clothes on their backs.
“I grabbed my brand-new 56-inch TV and ran it outside, but it was already melted,” Clark said. “Other than that I have nothing left.”
Three days later, he was still in the only pair of surf trunks and T-shirt he owns. “Within 11 minutes the whole place was gone,” Clark said.
After escaping the blaze, he flagged down a passing motorist who called 911. “The fire department got there at about 5 a.m.,” he said. “By that time the home was 90 percent gone … by the time they got water on it with the fire hoses, there was nothing left.”
Battalion Chief Russell Yee said a Kalaheo fire engine was on scene at 5:23 a.m. and by the time firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze, the home was 75 percent gone.
“By the time the engine arrived the fire was fully involved,” Yee said. “They fought it until it was out.”
Not long after the first engine arrived, an engine company from Po‘ipu and a rescue unit from Lihu‘e arrived, Yee said.
“By the time the other engines arrived, it was really all over,” Clark said.
Clark believes the fire started from a candle burning on his roommate’s nightstand.
“When the nightstand caught fire he tried to run it to the bathtub to put it out, but ended up catching his bed on fire and dripping bits of fire all down the hallway to the bathroom,” Clark said.
Yee said it will be a few more days until the fire inspectors have finished the investigation to determine the official cause of the fire. “The inspectors are in the process of writing the report,” Yee said.
“I was there this morning with the insurance adjuster,” Clark said yesterday. “The insurance adjuster said it was a total loss.”
The Kaua‘i County chapter of the American Red Cross was on scene shortly after the flames were doused in Lawa‘i Friday.
“The Red Cross on Kaua‘i has responded to six house fires since the second week of March,” said Kaua‘i County Red Cross Director Alfred Darling.
Darling responds to many emergencies on the island in his role with the agency and is often the first shoulder for victims to lean on.
“My main objective is to take them from the heightened level of trauma to a lower level of comprehending that will set them on the road to recovery,” Darling said. “Talking and listening … that is something so crucial.”
“Alfred was a friendly face and I couldn’t stop shaking, and he is such a cool guy,” Clark said. “Friday was total shock and disbelief and I didn’t really believe it happened until I woke up in a hotel room Saturday.”
One of the things the Red Cross does for those in disaster situations is house them for a maximum of three days, Darling said. “There are no shelters over here (on Kaua‘i) so we put them up for a maximum of three nights.”
Clark and his roommate were housed in the Kiahuna Plantation hotel in Po‘ipu.
The Red Cross also supplies a credit card loaded with enough money to help meet the needs of those suddenly without anything. “The card they gave me had $340 on it,” Clark said.
Darling said the Red Cross also covers the deposit and first month’s rent when a victim finds a new place to live.
Clark is thankful for that as well. He was recently diagnosed with stomach cancer and finds the energy and finances don’t go as far when one has to deal with chemotherapy treatments.
“I am supposed to do them every two weeks. In fact, I’m supposed to be doing one now, but the fire has delayed it,” Clark said.
Clark earns his money hanging drywall and working for a concert promotions company. “I lost my sound equipment and my computers, and we just moved in,” Clark said.
He also lost six surfboards and personal mementos as well as all his furniture.
Darling said the island has never experienced as many housefires in such a short period — six in just over two months.
“This should be a wake-up call,” Darling said. “We need to check our houses, use no candles, smoke cigarettes outside and have a plan … it’s very important that all the people in the house know the plan.”
Clark and Chow lost their cell phones in the fire and did not know any of the phone numbers in them. “It’s important to have a plan to know these types of things if an emergency happens,” Darling said.
Clark said he is happy to be alive, knowing that the fire itself woke him up Friday morning.
“I laid in bed and stared at the wall for the first couple days,” Clark said. “I just can’t believe this stroke of luck.”
Anyone willing to help Clark with donations, housing or essentials can reach him at 346-8645.
To learn more about the American Red Cross Kaua‘i Chapter call 245-4919 or go online to www.hawaiiredcross.org.
• Adam Harju, editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 227) or firstname.lastname@example.org.