After the fire

KALAHEO — Troubles are still coming for the family that escaped a burning Kalaheo home Thursday morning.

Milton “Kalani” Carter could only watch as flames burned the ceiling of his childhood bedroom. The 47-year-old, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, could do nothing but witness everything he owned ignite and turn to ash.

“I had just gotten up,” Carter said. “And I could feel the heat of the fire. I am watching the room burn.”

While Carter waited for help, his girlfriend and caretaker, Roxanne Yong, awoke the family when she smelled smoke. She ushered her two toddlers, Raelayan-Rayne Honjo and Ronin Honjo, out the door.

“It started in the back room, our room,” Yong said. “I woke up to the smell. It smelled like burning. It was a book and a couch that was on fire.”

The flames were small at first, she said.

Carter and Yong exchanged words.

“I asked him what I can do about the fire,” she said. “He told me to throw water. So I went to the kitchen and poured water on the book. I tried to smother it with a blanket, but it didn’t work.”

Suddenly, the flames jumped to the couch and before she knew it, they were all over the room.

“I didn’t feel anything at the moment,” Yong said. “I just had to get them out of the house. I got the kids and took them out.”

Neighbors on Puu Road rushed to help when they saw the smoke pouring from the windows of the family’s home. Yong was shouting for help.

A next door neighbor named Deon, a former firefighter, began hosing the house. Another neighbor helped Carter out of the home. Janet Carveiro offered her home as a “safe zone” where the family of four could stand and wait for firefighters to extinguish the flames.

The fire started about 9 a.m., according to a release from the Kauai Fire Department. It was under control by 9:30 and was contained to a bedroom and the living area of the single-story home owned by Carter’s mother. There were no injuries. The fire caused more than $60,000 in damage.

The family is thankful to its neighbors, but is now looking for a different kind of help.

“There is nothing we could retrieve from the house,” Yong said. “Everything was burnt ashes. There was nothing that we can actually take out. And we still don’t know how it started.”

The American Red Cross Kauai Chapter provided lodging and financial assistance to get them food and basic necessities.

“It’s to help them on to the next step in this recovery process,” said Padraic Gallagher, Kauai County Red Cross director. “It’s basically to bridge the gap between the disaster and the recovery.”

Napuanani McKeague, founder of the Voices of Kauai network and Carter’s relative, took in the family when the Red Cross benefits reached their limit.

McKeague said she is violating her rental agreement for keeping additional tenants in the home, but she doesn’t want to turn her family away.

“There is no way I’m sending them to the beach,” McKeague said. “The last time he lived on the beach, he almost died. With his disability and his wheelchair. He is not built for that.”

The two met with a worker for Kauai Economic Opportunity, but the process is long and right now, it doesn’t look promising, McKeague said. They are hoping for some transitional housing or a shelter, she said.

“Not knowing where we are going to go next is the hard part,” Carter said. “Everything I own is gone. I’m in shock, I guess.”

It’s tough on the children, too, Yong said.

“They don’t understand,” she said. “They are still asking to go home. We have clothing and we have been receiving donations and toys, but we don’t have any diapers.”

Yong said she has to be strong for her children.

“I have to be open-minded,” she said. “I can’t show them I’m sad, too.”


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