KOLOA — Police told almost 100 Weliweli Tract residents to evacuate Wednesday afternoon after a brushfire got dangerously close to their neighborhood, burning at least two homes to the ground and damaging at least another three residences.
“It started near the (Koloa) bypass road and the high winds just took it,” long-time Kipuka Street resident Hellen Ellegard said, waving her arm toward the neighborhood. “I called 911, but I guess they had a lot of reports by then.”
Ellegard said the blaze — the biggest she has seen in that area — started about 12:30 p.m. She was looking out from her home when she saw a fire in the field behind her house. County officials said the fire started at 2 p.m.
Several residences were severely impacted. One home burned entirely to the ground. A smaller guest cottage, apparently unoccupied, also burned to the ground. Three other homes had some fire damage.
No injuries were reported, according to a county press release Wednesday evening. But at least two residents — possibly three — lost their dogs.
South Shore artist Carol Ann Davis arrived at the scene, only to see her dog being carried away by her daughter. Davis, looking desolate, said her dog died due to stress. She wasn’t sure of the damages to her home yet because she hadn’t been able to access it.
A young girl sobbed nearby; she too lost her dog to the fire. A friend of Davis showed up later, and said her dog was locked in the kennel in the back of her house. She said she was hoping her dog was able to dig under the fencing and escape harm.
The brushfire reportedly broke out near Ala Kinoiki, the Koloa bypass road, and spread to the residential area, county officials said. The Kaua‘i Fire Department responded with fire engines 4 and 5, a rescue vehicle and Air 1, the county helicopter.
KFD Chief Robert Westerman was on the scene giving instructions to firefighters.
Several police officers aided with traffic, closing down access roads to keep the public away. However, police officers let some residents get through on foot to go to their homes. Some residents ran down Po‘ipu Road toward their homes, screaming in desperation.
Ellegard said she also called her son, Arron Ellegard of Kalaheo, to come over and help protect her house.
“The house that burned is my old football coach’s house,” Arron Ellegard said.
Helen Ellegard and a neighbor said when the helicopter first responded, it lost its water bucket over the field. “It just fell off the helicopter,” Ellegard said.
Russ Winter lives at a home on the corner of Kipuka Street and Po‘ipu Road. He said he heard the helicopter and saw the smoke, realizing it was coming from the nearby field. After seeing the flames, he spotted first-responders along the fence fighting back the flames. The wind started to pick up, threatening to spread the flames further, but the men were able to push the fire back and away from the houses, he said.
“It was a good response,” he said of the emergency crews. “They brought in a lot of resources, and were in a really tough position because of the wind.”
Winter said had the response been a little slower, the fire could easily have taken the neighborhood because of the winds.
KFD’s response may have been fast, but local residents were also instrumental in fighting the fire. With the blaze approaching the neighborhood from behind, some of them climbed on rooftops and kept hosing down the homes, even if it wasn’t their own.
“A neighbor came by, climbed up on our roof and hosed it down, kind of a Spiderman guy,” he said. “I was impressed by the whole operation.”
KFD deemed the fire under control at 5:30 p.m.
Walking down Kipuka Street at 6 p.m., Rod Sueoka, owner of the Sueoka grocery store, was covered in black ash from the knees down.
“I’ve been fighting hot spots flaring back up in my backyard,” he said. “The fire swept across the field to the neighborhood, but we don’t have any damage.”
County spokeswoman Beth Tokioka said the fire was fully extinguished at 6:30 p.m. At that time, the county helicopter was still scouting for flare-ups, ash covered the firemen and water trucks lingered at the corner of Kipuka and Po‘ipu roads.
Bulldozers and water trucks worked the charred field, clearing, watering and checking for flares.
Alongside Kipuka Street, houses covered in black ash gave an eerie feeling to an otherwise sunny day in Po‘ipu.
Some residents said the fire was bound to happen. They have had serious concerns for a while about the dense and dry grass, weeds and shrubs facing Ala Kinoiki, the Koloa bypass road behind Kipuka Street.
“That’s a dangerous field,” Winter said. “They shouldn’t be letting it go dry like that right next to neighborhoods.”
Apparently, residents who cleared the brush near their backyard avoided any major damage to their homes.
The house that burned to the ground seemed to not have such fire prevention in place, residents said.