AHUKINI — Several hundred rental cars that filled an inventory-overflow lot posed a potentially explosive situation off Ahukini Road near Lihu’e Airport Thursday afternoon.
“We’ve got about 300 cars in there,” said Tim Foskett, operations manager for National/Alamo Rent A Car, as he watched the brush fire rapidly approaching the lot from his vantage point across from the Lihu’e Refuse Transfer Station.
“But, at least I got the gate open so they (the firefighters) can fight the fire from inside,” Foskett said. “There’s another company that has about a hundred cars on the back end, but they haven’t opened the gate yet.”
Earlier in the afternoon, shuttle drivers were frustrated as they were turned away by police and airport officials due to the rapidly advancing fire that appeared to have started between the overflow inventory lot and the Ahukini Pier.
“We came when the airport called to tell us to move the cars,” Foskett said. “But the fire came up too fast.”
The advance of the brush fire was aided by the gusty northerly trades that fanned the blaze, engulfing several utility poles that lay in its path.
Initially, members of a crew from the Lihu’e Airport Crash/Fire/Rescue station responded with their tankers as firefighters from the Kaua’i Fire Department Lihu’e Station were engaged in responding to another fire call that came in about the same time the Ahukini blaze was reported. Initial reports for the Ahukini fire came in shortly before 3:30 p.m.
Using a fire hydrant just makai of the entrance to the Kaua’i Resource Center, drivers of the tankers could replenish their water supplies, and initially concentrated on striking down the blaze near Ahukini Road to keep it from jumping the road.
Once that perimeter was established, efforts turned to keeping the blaze from consuming the stored rental cars. Black pieces of charred guinea grass and other debris rained down on the cars that filled the lot.
An airport official was considering retreating the center of operations due to the explosive situation posed by the gas in the rental cars, but firefighting efforts were successful at keeping the blaze from reaching the rental-car lot.
A state tractor used for mowing around the runway area was used to create an immediate fire break so the fire could be contained outside the car lot.
“The landowners should be responsible for keeping the grass cut,” one of the security personnel said as he turned drivers back on Ahukini Road. “There’s a lot of guinea grass waiting to go up (in flames).”
Throughout the operation, firefighters jockeyed between keeping the cars from being burned as well as keeping hot spots from jumping Ahukini Road. Kaua’i Fire Department Chief Robert “Bob” Westerman patrolled the perimeter, and was in constant communication with both airport and police personnel who turned away drivers just below the airport’s commuter terminal.
Meanwhile, as firefighters got a handle on the blaze, a caravan of vehicles followed a Kaua’i Police Department cruiser out of the smoke from Ahukini Pier, where they were stopped after the blaze started.
Firefighters appeared to have control of the blaze about an hour after it was reported, and Josie Allianic, one of the rental-car-company managers joked, “I hope they all had their windows rolled up.”
“Otherwise, it’s smoke damage for sure,” Foskett added.
Around 40 acres burned at Ahukini. In addition to the county and state personnel response, an operator of a front loader from Niu Construction helped cut a fire break, according to a county press release.
Nearly simultaneously, fire-fighters quickly put out a brush fire in Hanama’ulu, under the Kapule Highway bridge over Hanama’ulu Stream.
The causes of the Ahukini and Hanama’ulu fires are under investigation.
Within a two-hour period Wednesday night into Thursday morning, KFD firefighters were called out to battle three brush fires in Anahola.
According to Westerman, all of the Anahola fires are considered suspicious in nature. He said that police and fire investigators suspect that they were set by the same person or group of people.
The first call came in at around 11:30 p.m. when a brush fire ignited on state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands property in Anahola, makai of Kuhio Highway.
Thirty-three homes in the homesteads area, near the intersection of Kukuihale and Mahuahua roads, were threatened by the fire, with some homes located just 100 feet away from the fire.
With winds changing directions, it took firefighters from the Kapa’a and Lihu’e stations about three-and-a-half hours to put out the fire. It is estimated that 25 acres of brush were consumed before this fire was extinguished.
In the meantime, another brush fire broke out at around 1 a.m. makai of Kuhio Highway just before the DHHL land, in an area used for motocross. Several firefighters were pulled from the nearby fire to put out the second fire, which they had under control in about 15 minutes, according to a county press release. Two acres were reported burned in this fire.
Soon after the second fire was under control, a third brush fire ignited near the water tower on Kealia Road. It was a small fire that was quickly extinguished by KFD Battalion Chief Theodore “Teddy” Williams.
Anyone with information about these fires should call Lt. Roy Asher with the Kaua’i Police Department at 241-1680, or Crime Stoppers at 241-1887.
- Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or email@example.com.