Lost in flames

KALAHEO — To 69-year-old Luana Ruggiero, the photos she’s taken over the past 35 years were real to her.

“Most of the creatures and people I taken these photos of, they passed from this Earth and that’s all I had of them,” said the Kalaheo resident.

She looks over at the charred rubble in her carport on Thursday. She’s separated from her burnt belongings by yellow caution tape. Ash, pieces of clothing, half-burnt papers, ruined books, professional camera equipment — a lifetime of her documented memories ruined by a Sept. 18 fire.

She believes it’s arson, but Kauai Fire Department officials are still investigating the incident.

About 1:50 a.m. Sept. 18, firefighters from the Kalaheo and Hanapepe stations were dispatched to a structure fire on Silva Road and had the blaze under control at 2:09 a.m., according to Kauai County reports.

“Firefighters arrived on scene to find a detached carport fully engulfed in flames,” wrote Sarah Blane, county spokeswoman.

Blane said the estimated damage to the carport and Ruggiero’s belongings amounts to about $40,000. The 69-year-old said she did not have renter’s insurance.

Ruggiero, who said she doesn’t have any family, is grateful for one of her neighbors who started a GoFundMe page for her on Thursday.

Kristy Love, owner of Lab Salon, has her business just around the corner from where Ruggiero lives. Her page for the Kalaheo resident has raised about $1,000 as of Friday.

“All we know is how we see how distressed she’s been because of this, but it’s been three weeks … and it’s been very sad all around,” Love said. “Nobody should have to go through this. She’s an older woman; she’s our kupuna; she’s struggling.” Hospitalized from Sept. 16-19 because of stomach problems, Ruggiero said she got the news of the fire from Love on Sept. 18.

“I could tell from sound of her voice something really terrible and she let me know the situation,” she said. “My reaction is totally numb. It’s just unbelievable. It’s something that never even occurred to me.”

Since Ruggerio’s 180-square-foot Kalaheo room was too small to fit her belongings, Love said Ruggerio was forced to leave them in the carport after her former Kalaheo rental agreement expired at the end of August.

“We were trying to find solutions as to where she could put it,” Love said. “The next thing I knew, I came to work Sunday morning and the (carport) was burned down.”

Ruggerio said some of belongings included professional camera equipment and professional photos the 69-year-old took on the island since she moved from New York in 1979.

“I have photos as far as the 80s, so I don’t know how you can put a price on your photography and on photographs that are irreplaceable,” she said. “This is a history of my personal life. It’s a history of this island. My writing. These are all histories of things.”

Love, who has known Ruggerio for seven years, wrote on her GoFundMe page the Kalaheo resident “has a very kind heart.”

“She walks around (Kalaheo) and she’s very artistic and funny and her belongings mean a lot to her,” she said. “These were what she couldn’t part with, but couldn’t fit up where she lived.”

Ruggerio, with tears in her eyes, said she’s very touched by support and donations she received so far.

“It’s really nice of them,” she said. “I completely didn’t expect that at all. God bless them is all I can say.”

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