By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Firefighters battle one of the fires on the Waianae coast
today. Over half of Oahu's fire companies have
fought these fires.

Fires scorch Waianae coast

Units battled them overnight,
but some still threaten homes

By Jaymes K. Song

More than half the island's fire companies today battled a series of blazes that raged along the Waianae Coast.

As a helicopter flew overhead and dumped sea water on the burning hillside, Makaha resident Connie Tom watched 15-foot flames flicker across the street from her home.

"I'm very scared," she said. "You're just defenseless. I feel very very helpless and abandoned."

The Makaha blaze was the largest of three that started yesterday and continued burning today. By mid-morning, firefighters said the blaze spanned more than a mile of the hillside along Farrington Highway.

Other fires burned in a brush area behind Waianae Intermediate School and in a junkyard along Mailiili Road.

Those fires were brought under control over the night, but residents complained of the choking smoke this morning.

At Waianae Intermediate, Vice Principal Mark Tanji sent about 1,200 students home early. The smoke reportedly was affecting some students in classroom buildings closer to the fire.

The junkyard fire, which involved three large stacks of shredded rubber, sent noxious fumes into the air in Waianae.

Civil Defense asked residents to evacuate their homes because of the fumes, but most people elected to stay. That blaze was still smoldering this morning.

Battalion Chief Ed Amina said the fire department's main priority today was containing the Makaha blaze before it reached utility lines.

He said if the fire hit the utility lines, it cold cause home fires because of shocks. "It's a major concern," he said.

Military units were helping the civilian firefighters, and volunteers helped with traffic control.

Makaha residents Dorothy Abad, 71, and Lino Abad, 73, were out this morning watering the area around their home. Dorothy Abad said she wasn't worried, because the area usually gets a fire every few years. But she said she hadn't seen the wind so strong.

Firefighters agreed that the high winds made the situation worse.

Tradewinds gusting up to 40 miles an hour spread the brush fire and put firefighters in the brush at great risk, Waianae fire Capt. Robert Lenchanko said last night. "We almost got hemmed in once when the wind shifted, but fortunately we had enough water to get out."

"This is not a normal thing for us in December," Uluwehe resident Bobby Palau said last night, referring to the Waianae's high rate of summer brush fires. "But for us, there's always a threat.

"With the wind blowing in from the mountain, the ashes were all on our houses," Palau added. "This whole place could have been devastated. The fire guys got here real fast and did a good job."

Frank Gomes, Palau's neighbor, believes the brush across the street from his home is an invitation to disaster.

"It's like a second rubbish dump," Gomes said. "They should give the owners a fine so they pay attention to it."

The Mailiili Road fire came as no surprise to at least one resident last night.

"The shredded tires have been stockpiled there for a long time and I've always felt that if it ever caught on fire, it would cause a big problem," said Maryknoll Spotkaeff, who lives near the fire scene.

"There's mountains of shredded tires, about six inches long and three inches wide, that were brought in from Campbell Industrial Park and stored there for recycling," she added. "But the company went out of business and it's been sitting there."

Spotkaeff noted that she and other residents complained, but became discouraged.

"Residents here know there's a lot of illegal dumping going on, and we used to complain all the time, but if people BS, what you going do?" she said. "It's sad because it's the adults who are doing it. They're just trying to make a fast buck and don't care about the future and what they're doing to the ecology."

Buddy Nakoa and his grandson, who live five houses from the fire site, chose to stay home despite the fumes. "The wind was blowing, so it wasn't so bad, but at the beginning, the smoke was real black," he said. "I got horses so I didn't want to leave. I also wanted to stay in case my neighbors needed help."

Star-Bulletin reporters Rod Ohira and
Pat Omandam contributed to this report.

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