Fire mars historic preschool


POSTED: Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fire investigators are investigating the cause of an early morning blaze that heavily damaged the century-old Central Union Church Preschool and Kindergarten yesterday.

;[Preview] Historic Preschool Church Burned

About 40 fire fighters battled a fire that burned half of Central Union Church and Preschool on Beretania Street.


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The fire was reported at about 4:10 a.m. It caused no injuries, but destroyed or damaged three classrooms, a teacher's lounge, a storage room and an office. School was canceled yesterday and is not expected to resume until next week.

About 45 firefighters brought the blaze at Punahou and South Beretania streets under control by 4:45 a.m., and it was extinguished about an hour later, said fire Capt. Terry Seelig. He said the single-story structure's age, about 104 years, made fighting the fire different from modern structures.

“;The materials are heavier, timber; the type of ceiling construction is different,”; Seelig said. “;It presents some challenges in terms of fire suppression.”;

The fire did rekindle later in the morning, but damage was confined only to the school, he said. Recently installed fire alarms alerted firefighters to the blaze.

Fire investigators are trying to determine a cause and damage estimate. Parts of the roof collapsed in a charred area of the school.

Smoke from the fire, which was visible from nearby high-rises, entered Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, which is directly behind the building that burned, prompting hospital officials to move patients on the second floor and the intensive care unit, said Claire Tong, director of communications and marketing for Hawaii Pacific Health, the hospital's parent company.

The hospital closed air ducts where the smoke entered, and patients were moved as a precaution, Tong said. No patients required treatment because of the smoke, she said. Surgeries and the birthing unit were not affected; two babies were born between 4 and 10 a.m.

City Auditor Les Tanaka, who lives across the street, woke up to the smell of smoke, which wafted in through his air-conditioning duct. It was then he saw the smoke coming from the church area. He said he did not see the flames until the firefighters arrived. He began taking photos from his lanai.

“;It was kind of spectacular,”; Tanaka said. “;The whole thing went up in pretty high flames.”;

Central Union Church Administrator Miguel Asuncion said the staff must determine where to hold classes. He said the staff meets today, and hopes to open school by Wednesday.

“;We have enough facility area to move the kids,”; he said. “;We're just glad the kids weren't there and nobody was hurt.”;

Concerned parents like Dennis Kodama gathered at the preschool this morning, asking administrators what they can do to help. His 3-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son both attend the school.

“;This is a sad event, but we are all really thankful nobody was hurt,”; Kodama said. “;The Central Union community will band together and persevere.”;