Explosion like ‘400-pound bomb’

Leroy Manguchei and mother Julia Manguchei were home Sunday watching the conclusion of an early morning football game on television when an explosion shook their 53-year-old Wailua home, which was quickly engulfed in flames and burned to the ground.

“It sounded like a jet breaking the sound barrier, like a 400-pound bomb,” Leroy Manguchei, 64, said of the blast in a phone interview yesterday. “Thank God that me and my mother … the health is OK.”

Both were taken via ambulance to Wilcox Memorial Hospital, where they were treated for smoke inhilation by breathing from oxygen tanks for roughly three hours. Neither suffered any burns.

Leroy Manguchei, who grew up in the home and moved back to spend more time with his widowed 86-year-old mother after retiring in Texas in 2006, estimated the total cost of the damage at between $350,000 and $400,000 and said that insurance would likely cover some, but not all, of those expenses.

The pair are currently staying at the Kapahi home of Leroy Manguchei’s brother, 67-year-old Michael Manguchei, until they are reimbursed and able to afford new, if smaller, housing.

“We lost everything. Everything,” he said. “We had been in there for 53 years, it was brand new when we moved in. We collected so many things, all the mementos. I lost my wedding ring, a $250 Seiko watch, my coin collection, the whole thing is a mess.”

Leroy Manguchei said that a Red Cross official approached him in the hospital and furnished a $650 voucher for him and his mother to purchase clothes and other essentials that were lost in the fire.

After the initial explosion, which occurred around 10:10 a.m., Leroy Manguchei ran to the outdoor bathroom where the propane-powered water heater sat, finding a pair of gas tanks already burning. An attempt to put out the blaze with a water hose failed because the hose was on fire.

He then ran back inside, where smoke was beginning to pour in, and told Julia Manguchei to “Get out! Get out! Get out!”

After she was safely out of the house, Leroy Manguchei hoped to salvage some of his belongings.

“I went back in like a fool to get my truck out of the garage,” he said. “I got my wallet and truck keys out of the bedroom, and was overcome with smoke. I was so nervous and short of time, I put in the key the wrong way (in the ignition) and had to leave it.”

A Nissan truck and a Hyundai sedan were both destroyed.

Leroy Manguchei said that the first firefighters arrived on the scene within five minutes, but because the nearest hydrant was more than 100 yards away from the house, they could not get started putting out the fire for another five to seven minutes.

The house was completely consumed by flames so quickly after the explosion — Leroy Manguchei estimated the delay as only three to four minutes — causing Leroy Manguchei to believe a slow leak from the propane tanks allowed gas to pool under the house, igniting when it reached the pilot light.

“My personal belief, it had to be gas,” Leroy Manguchei said. “Half of Wailua heard the explosion. … Everybody said they thought the explosion was a bomb. An electrical fire wouldn’t do that.”

He said that a propane tank was dropped off on Friday. Neither he nor his mother noticed an odor over the weekend.

Leroy Manguchei said a fire inspector told him that the fire was not caused by the gas tanks.

Investigators from two outside agencies will be coming to Kaua‘i to review the circumstances relative to the fire, county spokeswoman Mary Daubert said yesterday. The prevention captain told Daubert that he hopes to have a definitive answer as to the cause of the fire after meeting with them.

• Michael Levine, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or via e-mail at mlevine@kauaipubco.com

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