Police officer Adam Lipka wiped his brow from the heat yesterday as firefighters battled a brush fire near homes on Hukilau Loop in Waialua. The fire came within 100 yards of those homes and within 20 feet of three residences in Poamoho Estates.

Waialua brush fire
threatens houses

The blaze snarls traffic and
causes some power outages

Whipped by shifting winds, a relentless fire burned more than 1,000 acres of old sugar cane and pineapple fields in Waialua yesterday, forcing the evacuation of several homes threatened by the flames.


The fire was contained at 7 p.m. and crews monitored the area overnight.

The fire came within about 20 feet of three homes in Poamoho Estates and within 100 yards of homes along Hukilau Loop. The fire downed some electricity transmission lines, which caused sporadic power outages in a few neighborhoods and at Schofield Barracks.

And as roads opened or closed, traffic slowed and snarled.

"The fire has spread all over the place which makes it a challenge to fight," Honolulu fire Capt. Kenison Tejada said yesterday afternoon as he stood in the smoke-filled air outside the Paalaa Kai Market and Bakery on Kaukonahua Road, which was closed to traffic for several hours.

Tejada said that one Fire Department helicopter, 14 units and more than 60 firefighters battled the fire yesterday. The military sent about 12 firefighters and two Blackhawk helicopters to haul 660-gallon bags of water to douse flames.

"It looks bad and there's lots of smoke. But it's not as bad (to fight) as a forest fire," said Tejada, motioning to a black wall of billowing smoke advancing across the dried cane fields toward the road. By 1:30 p.m., the fire already had consumed more than 700 acres.

But the fire did not jump the road.

The fire, which at times stretched for almost two miles, flared and faded throughout the day and into the night. It climbed in and out of gulches and valleys and at one point crept to the edge of Kamehameha Highway. Tejada said the fire was not in a continuous line but scattered in burning patches sometimes 20 acres wide or bigger.

Police closed Kaukonahua Road at 10:30 yesterday morning and reopened it about six hours later. At 5:30 p.m., police closed Kamehameha Highway for an hour because smoke caused poor visibility.

Tejada said the fire started about 8 p.m. Tuesday on a dry grassy ridge near the University of Hawaii's Poamoho Experiment Station off Kaukonahua Road. The fire was contained by early morning.

But at 7:30 a.m. yesterday, firefighters were called back to the area for smoke. From there, the fire grew and gathered strength as it was fed by shifting winds.

At 1 p.m. yesterday, Lester Choi, a fisherman who has lived in his green plantation-style house for the past 18 years, was worried about protecting his home, his fishing boat parked in his driveway and 180 gallons of gasoline from the fire if it jumped across Kaukonahua. He also worried that many of the homes in the area have propane gas tanks.

"I trust the Fire Department and there's a yellow fire hydrant in my front yard," said Choi, 43.

Choi said the fire was contained by midnight, but the winds blew at 25 knots "and kept the fire going."

Rachel Lunasco, 66, who lives on Hukilau Loop near Thomson Corner, was evacuated with her neighbors about 12:30 p.m. when the fire climbed out of the gulch below the neighborhood to within 100 yards of her home.

Firefighters ran hoses through the carport of Lunasco's home and fought the fire back into the gulch from her backyard. By late yesterday afternoon, the firefighters were rolling up their hoses and Lunasco was cleaning dust and soot out of her house.

Standing in her back yard, where chickens clucked in six hen houses, Lunasco pointed down to the blackened cane fields below her hillside neighborhood and up through a gulch still smoldering and puffing with white wisps of smoke.

"The wind just carried it," she said.

In addition to the mandatory evacuations of Hukilau and Poamoho, residents from the Paalaa Kai area were also evacuated.

For several hours yesterday, 21 people waited out the fire at Waialua District Park where the Hawaii Red Cross had set up an evacuation center.

Lifelong Waialua residents Helen and Takuji Sato sat doing word puzzles in their car at the evacuation center, worried their house of 40 years would go up in flames.

"We could see the fire in our back yard," said Helen Sato, 71. "We saw the blaze," she said motioning upward with both hands.

Beyond the Satos' back yard fence the grass was dry and brown.

"One spark from the blaze, and we've had it," she said.

Roselani Smith, 53, who lives in the Paalaa Kai area, said "To me, you gotta get more firebreaks."

Smith added, "We get this every year with the wildfires. This is the worst. This is about the fourth one."

Smith asked: "Why wait till this situation happens? Precautions could have been taken.

"We were worried because we know how fast those wildfires can go," she said.

The fire disrupted power at the Wahiawa Wastewater Treatment Plant, causing a discharge of 8,842 gallons of waste water into Lake Wilson.


E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --