A burned-out shell was all that remained of a cottage in the Launiupoko subdivision in West Maui yesterday after a wildfire started Wednesday and swept through the area.
Understaffing blamed in firefighting efforts
LAHAINA » A homeowner whose studio apartment and three-car garage burned in a brush fire said the Maui Fire Department was too understaffed to fight the blaze.
"These guys are spread too thin. They just don't have the resources to stop this kind of stuff," said Wendell Payne, standing next to the charred ruins of his property in the Launiupoko subdivision. Although the fire consumed the garage and the apartment above it, Payne's main home nearby was spared.
Fire officials, who had help from the National Guard yesterday, called the West Maui fire contained at about 6:30 last night, but they continued to monitor the area for flare-ups.
In 2 1/2 days, the blaze consumed 2,600 acres, or four square miles; destroyed two dwellings, including Payne's; and damaged two others. Utility poles, water pipes and fencing were also damaged, and the fire jammed West Maui traffic.
Payne said the helicopters and crews were trying to put out hot spots on the mountain slopes and below his home, when the wind came up at more than 40 mph. In minutes, the fire was raging through the gulch next to his property, and his family evacuated, he said.
"It was all we could do to just drop what we had, grab our cars and run out of here," he said.
He estimated his loss of the structure, including his wife's work station in the garage, at between $150,000 to $200,000.
State Rep. Angus McKelvey, a Launiupoko resident, said one of the problems is the way large property owners treat the land as "weed farms" and fail to keep the brush cut and under control.
"If they had taken care of it, I don't think it would have been as bad," McKelvey said.
County spokesperson Mahina Martin said a Hawaii Air National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopter capable of dumping 2,000 gallons of water arrived from Oahu yesterday to assist in firefighting. The Chinook made a big difference in containing the fire, she said.
Martin said 60 county firefighters were assigned to fight the blaze, in addition to more than 10 state forestry workers. Two firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation Thursday.
She said firefighters managed to protect most of the 150 homes in the Launiupoko subdivision.
Martin said there isn't a public safety department that couldn't benefit from more funding but that the challenge is to increase the staffing as the county grows.
Martin said the cause of the fire was under investigation.
The brush fire, initially reported at 10:34 a.m. Wednesday, started behind Olowalu General Store. It destroyed a two-bedroom house behind the store Wednesday, forcing the evacuation of the Nahooikaika family including seven adults, family friend Jodi Mashino said.
Mashino said family members tried to fight the fire with garden hoses and water buckets until firefighters told them to evacuate.
She said the house, a former Pioneer Mill plantation dwelling, was more than 50 years old and that three generations of Nahooikaikas lived in it.
Mashino said the family lost most of their personal belongings, including their clothes and family photographs.
"It looks like everything burned," she said.
Residents evacuated from Launiupoko were allowed to return to their homes Thursday night as police reopened Honoapiilani Highway, the only thoroughfare in the area. Despite the opening of the highway, some of the 197 people who went to two emergency shelters set up by the Red Cross decided to spend the night, Martin said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.