"A fire in one of the back rooms extended to an adjacent room," began Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Terry Seelig.
Firefighters put out the flames in a mere 11 minutes, dampening the panic building only minutes before that.
"I just got a phone call from a friend who told me my dad's place was on fire. I was at my mother-in-law's place down the road. The main thing is that no one was home," said Wendell Domingo.
The damage was hidden by shrouded windows and various overhanging roofs.
Fortunately, not one of the 13 people living there was home at the time - even the dogs and the pet rabbit got out alive.
It was a tough sight to see, that, being the family home for decades.
Some of the family arrived from work just as crews began their clean-up.
"He's pretty distraught right now," said Domingo of his father who stood across the street in tears.
It was the last kind of surprise he wanted to see only weeks before Christmas.
"They are going to have get through the consequence of the fire," Seelig said.
For the time being, the six-bedroom house is unlivable for the eight adults and five children living there, after smoke choked everything.
The Red Cross is doing what it can to help out, but they all know it will take time.
"Long time living here, long time, from when I was so young," said Domingo.