Pre-dawn blaze razes classroom

Three quick-thinking residents sprayed a blazing, 20-foot wall of flames with nearby garden hoses in Lihu‘e yesterday morning as flames engulfed a portable classroom at Elsie Wilcox Elementary School.

Though the building was destroyed, nearby structures were spared.

Michael Akama, Ron Garlie and Edwin Santa Maria were prepping for the East Kaua‘i Lions Club pancake breakfast at the school around 5:15 a.m. when an outside fire set the dark morning alight.

Emergency responders arrived after a 5:23 alarm, county spokeswoman Mary Daubert said, noting the fire was under control at 5:47 a.m. and fully extinguished at 1:16 p.m.

“It was hot,” Garlie said.

Kaua‘i firefighters arrived roughly five minutes after he and two others started fighting the blaze, Garlie said. However, he said, the trio continued to spray east toward the fire as members of the Lihu‘e and Kalaheo stations fought the fire from the other side.

“We decided to keep water on two sides of the building,” Garlie said.

Estimating that they fought the fire for about 15 minutes, Santa Maria said, “It felt like a long time.”

Rubble was all that remained of the portable classroom, said Daubert.

Officials estimated the damages to the 1,050-square-foot wooden building and its contents to be valued at more than $100,000.

Santa Maria, a public works manager, said he estimated the amount to be closer to $200,000.

Akama, the school’s food service manager, modestly said he was able to think on his feet in response to the fire because of his knowledge of the school property.

“I work here, so I know where the hoses are,” he said.

No one was injured and no other buildings were damaged by the fire.

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

Anyone with information about the Wilcox School fire is asked to call the Kaua‘i Police Department dispatch at 241-1711.

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