Usually, the Fourth of July is expected to go up in smoke. But not like this.
“It’s a tinderbox” said Ken Cannon, who had been observing the Coco Palms fire for the past two hours from the roadside.
Witnesses speculated that the fire started in the lobby of the defunct hotel, situated on Kuhio Highway across from Wailua Bay.
The resort is owned by Prudential Insurance. Coco Palms Hui, LLC has plans to rebuild it. Coco Palms Hui, LLC Principal Tyler Greene has estimated it will cost about $125 million to rebuild the Coco Palms Resort, which includes purchasing the land from Prudential Insurance.
Motorists first spotted smoke rising from the property Friday morning. A visiting family alerted the authorities to the blaze.
In addition to the police and other emergency personnel, firefighters from Kapaa, Lihue and Kalaheo were on the scene. Two hours after the blaze started, fire crews were still battling the flames in the humid 86 degree weather.
The wire fencing surrounding the decrepit structures were erected as a result of the hotel being non-operational for over two decades. Fire and police personnel decided to cut the fencing to allow closer access for the fire trucks.
The constant shifting of the flames made the fire fighters’ job even more difficult, moving from the East side of the building to the Lihue-facing side.
In order to position themselves closer to the inferno, a fire engine tried to access the property from Haleilio Road. However, attempts to do so were unsuccessful since the hydrant was too far away.
The fire shifted several times due to offshore tradewinds.
“The winds are blowing from the northeast and the trades are pretty strong — Ohh! That’s what I’m talking about, that’s an undulation of wind. This is a terrible fire, a conflagration,” Cannon exclaimed, visibly concerned.
Alarms could be heard sounding off from the property and loud booms were emanating from the aged-wooden structure, with rafters that were now charred and bare.
Dozens of concerned observers lined the bike path along Kuhio Highway. Many were capturing footage of the fire on their smartphones. Twenty-three out of 26 residents, when asked “What do you think is responsible for this fire?” suspected arson.
Many saw the fire as a shame, because of its storied legacy. Ida Manabat, whose uncle worked as a bartender at Coco Palms in the late 70s, remarked, “It’s sad… they should’ve done something when they had a chance, now they’ve lost so much.”
However, some thought the old building was well past its prime.
“I never thought I’d see it go, but I’m kinda glad, it’s an eyesore. It’s a nostalgic thing, but it’s time for it to go.” said Greg Glaser.
The highly combustible grass thatching that comprised the roof of the hotel that had its heyday in the 60s and 70s fed the inferno.
Dark billows could be seen as far away as Kapaa, where Thomas Atou was working in his yard and unaware of the fire.
“The power went out, but I didn’t know,” he said.
Although the power outage in Kapaa occurred around the time the fire broke out, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative confirmed that it was a downed tree in Kapahi and not related to the fire incident.