Friday, July 16, 2004

A Lihue Airport emergency vehicle stood watch along the airport's perimeter yesterday afternoon as a large brush fire raged in an adjacent sugar cane field. The fire started in a large pile of discarded appliances -- washing machines, dryers, dishwashers and other items -- at the Kauai County Lihue Transfer Station at the airport.

Kauai fire sparks
a string of disruptions

Roads into southern Lihue
are closed, and a helicopter
bringing water crashes

LIHUE >> A fire ignited in a large pile of discarded appliances yesterday near Lihue Airport, touching off a chain reaction of events that included a large brush fire, the closure of all roads leading into the southern half of Lihue and the crash of a helicopter used by the Fire Department.

Gary Hall, pilot of the Hughes 500 helicopter, was uninjured, but county officials said the helicopter is a total loss. The helicopter went down near Hanamaulu Bay after its rotor blade struck a tree while hauling water to the brush fire.

The aircraft is owned by Inter-Island Helicopters, which contracts with Kauai County to provide all helicopter service to both the Fire and Police departments.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. It began in a mountain of white goods -- washing machines, dryers, dishwashers and other appliances -- at Kauai County's Lihue Transfer Station at the north end of Lihue Airport.

The fire spread to a neighboring fallow cane field with a heavy growth of grass.

A Hughes 500 helicopter used by the Kauai Fire Department was shown yesterday helping to fight a brush fire near Lihue Airport. The copter later crashed near Hanamaulu Bay while hauling water to the fire. The pilot was uninjured but the chopper was a total loss.

By early afternoon the state Health Department ordered the area downwind of the fire sealed off because of the possibility of hazardous fumes.

Kauai Civil Defense opened its Emergency Operations Center and instituted what it called a "shelter in place" in an area southwest of the airport.

Much of the affected area is in two industrial parks, but three neighborhoods -- Molokoa, Lihue Town Estates and Kalapaki Villas -- with a total of about 1,000 residents were included in the Health Department order.

People in air-conditioned buildings were allowed to remain. Those without air conditioning were advised -- but not required -- to leave.

Police set up roadblocks and traffic control points around the area, blocking all traffic into southern Lihue and into the airport.

Flights continued, but passengers were not allowed to drive into the airport for about two hours as flames from the fire, fanned by strong tradewinds, came up Ahukini Road, which leads to the terminal.

The chemical fire at the transfer station was declared out about 2:30 p.m., and some of the roadblocks came down, but traffic was slowed near the airport by heavy smoke from the brush fire.

Meanwhile, firefighters reported in the late afternoon that the helicopter that had been hauling water to the brush fire all afternoon had gone down along Hanamaulu Bay.

Hall, the pilot, walked away from the aircraft and was picked up by a fire rescue squad that reported he was uninjured.

An Inter-Island Helicopter employee refused to answer any questions about the crash, but she confirmed Hall was not hurt.

The brush fire covered 60 acres. All the fires were declared out at 4:19 p.m., although fire crews remained at the scene into the evening pumping foam on the appliances and responding to hot spots.

County of Kauai


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