Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Hawaii County firefighters continued mopping up hot spots yesterday at the Waiakea Villas administration building hours after the main blaze was put out. Damage was estimated at just under $2 million.

Hilo fire causes
$2 million damage
to building complex

The blaze destroyed the
administration area of Waiakea Villas

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> Fire caused nearly $2 million damage to the Waiakea Villas complex in Hilo early yesterday, fire officials said.

A resident was awake reading at about 1:40 a.m. when she heard a sound she thought was rain pattering on a metal roof.

"Suddenly I heard this really strong crackling sound," said the woman, who identified herself only as Miss Riviera.

She discovered the administration building of the apartment and business complex, about 100 feet from her residential unit, engulfed in flames.

Hours later nothing but a hulk remained, still smoldering late in the afternoon.

The Fire Department estimated damage at $1,956,200.

The threat of falling beams prevented firefighters from entering to look for the cause. Owner Simon Bebb flew from Honolulu to review the damage.

On discovering the fire, Riviera called 911. But Waiakea Villas manager Gwen De Coito said two patrolling police officers were the first to report it.

"It was a terrific fire," said resident Phyllis Scott, who woke up after fire engines arrived. "The flames were just leaping into the air. The whole roof was ablaze."

At daylight, a parked car 100 feet away could be seen with its heavy plastic bumper melted by the heat.

De Coito said three residential buildings in the multibuilding complex were evacuated, with tenants kept at the far side of a parking lot until 3:45 a.m.

Red Cross volunteers arrived to provide assistance.

Electricity was shut off during the fire and restored at daylight, but the complex remained without telephone service.

The complex, developed as the Waiakea Village hotel in the early 1970s by C. Brewer & Co., was unique among hotels of that era. Except for concrete support columns, the numerous buildings are made of wood, limited to three stories high.

Artificial waterways with flowing streams wind through the complex, crossed by foot bridges on paved paths linking buildings.

Geese and ducks, long a feature of the complex, continued waddling right to the edge of the charred building yesterday.

A fire in 1994 destroyed one of the commercial buildings, and another fire in 1997 destroyed a residential unit.

The complex has 250 residential units and 25 businesses, De Coito said. Except for the administration building, the complex was not damaged.

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