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Fire burns 500 acres

  • Photo courtesy of Kauai County

    Kaua‘i firefighters, with the assistance of various landowners and agencies, extinguished a roughly 500-acre brush fire in Po‘ipu.

  • Photo by Edward G Whitby

    This photo by Edward G Whitby of Kalaheo shows a helicopter making a water drop on the South Shore blaze Tuesday.

  • Caleb Loehrer / The Garden Island

    A seashell sits on acres of burnt grassland in Poipu after a brush fire swept across the region Tuesday.

POIPU — Firefighters on Wednesday afternoon were still battling the remnants of a brush fire that started more than 24 hours before in Mahaulepu.

Steady winds blew in from the east all afternoon on Kamehameha Day, pushing flames across hundreds of acres of rolling hills covered in thick grass that hadn’t seen a decent rain in weeks.

A Kauai County press release on Wednesday said no injuries or structural damage had been reported.

Fire crews had the roughly 500-acre fire under control by about 9:15 p.m. Tuesday and remained at the scene throughout much of Wednesday, continuing to patrol for flareups.

Personnel from the KPD Prevention Bureau were also on the scene conducting an investigation, as well as the on-duty battalion chief, according to the press release, which described efforts to fight the fire in the following way.

Firefighters were first notified of a relatively small brush fire shortly before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. KFD firefighters arrived on scene about 3:40 p.m. A total of 24 KFD personnel responded from the Koloa, Kalaheo, and Lihue fire stations, including the Rescue 1 and 3 helicopters and a battalion chief.

Firefighters were assisted by water tenders from CJM Stables, Wa‘alani Enterprises, the Department of Public Works Roads Division, Goodfellow Bros., and Paul’s Electric. Poipu Bay Golf Course, Blue Knight Services Hawaii, Koloa Zipline, and Grove Farm also assisted with the incident.

Three helicopters from Airborne Aviation and a helicopter from Jack Harter made water drops.

Police closed Ala Kinoiki, Old Mill Road, and Poipu Road about 4:15. As a safety precaution, fire officials evacuated residents on Kipuka Street, including all connecting roads, and Weliweli Tract about 5:20 p.m.

Due to the evacuation, volunteers with the American Red Cross opened a shelter, with the assistance of the Department of Parks and Recreation, at the Koloa Neighborhood Center from 8:30 to 9:15 p.m.

About 8:50 p.m., officials reopened Kipuka Street, connecting roads, and Weliweli Tract and subsequently lifted the evacuation notice. Poipu Road was reopened at 9:15 p.m. Ala Kinoiki remained closed through the night and reopened about 6:20 a.m. Wednesday.

On Wednesday, due to a small fire that reignited in the area, police closed Ala Kinoiki from 12:30 to 1 p.m. That fire is now contained but crews remained on scene.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

As the sun started setting Tuesday evening, locals and tourists, stuck behind a KFD truck blocking the only road out of the area, watched from the roadside as the fire crept closer to the street and neighborhood homes on the opposite side. Glowing red embers floated above orange smoke in a high arch over the backyards of increasingly anxious Poipu residents who stood on their lanai.

“See? That’s how fires start, right there,” one woman told her friend, pointing to the sky.

The sun had just set, forcing down helicopters, whose pilots no longer had light to navigate by. Without air support dropping gallons of water at regular intervals, firefighters were left to soak the strip of relatively green grass and bushes lining the road and hope it would be enough to prevent flames from jumping the road.

The fire grew closer.

The wind had blown fairly steady all afternoon but finally began to weaken as dusk settled in. More than once, the flames seemed all but dead. Only white smoke drifted up from behind the golf course. Then, a breeze from somewhere out over the ocean would come and kick start the fire all over again.

“Oh! It’s coming!” one woman said pointing to orange flames leaping over the 20-foot high trees that line the north side of the road. “It’s not just like one thin line of fire.”

“You see those flames over there? From there to the road, that’s 40 feet,” one policeman told an onlooker who asked how things were going.

The officer explained that they were moving cars and people east to make room for a large water truck that would soak the strip between the fire and the street.

“We gotta let it burn itself out though,” he said.

A middle-aged man asked the policeman how long it would be until the road opened up. Dissatisfied with the uncertain answer, he pressed the officer until someone from the crowd yelled at him, “Hey! Your time is not his first priority right now.”

Shortly before 8 p.m., police blocked Poipu Road, a fire truck pulled up and a hose was pulled across the road to a fire hydrant. The wind picked up again.

A group of locals, apparently determined to make the best of a bad situation, gathered around the bed of a pickup truck nearby, drinking beer from a cooler on the tailgate as the fire worked its way closer.

“We just gonna drive a little more and more down and keep on drinking, till we end up at Shipwrecks,” one man said. People around him laughed, and someone else yelled out, “No! Mahaulepu!”

The voices stopped for a couple minutes. The crackle of the flames got louder with the wind.

“I feel like doing something,” one man said in a voice that started out real quiet. “Let me go grab one HOSE!”

By around 8:30 p.m. the wind had mostly subsided, other than the occasional gust. Firefighters kept watering the ground, and the crowd began to recede, leaving behind only the people waiting for the road to reopen. It would take another hour. The air smelled like the morning after a campfire.

A young guy answered his phone, “Aloha! Come pick me up with the helicopter, please?”

A man sitting on the curb leaned back and looked up at the sky. “Could use a storm right now…” he said.

  1. Steve Lauryn June 13, 2019 3:12 am Reply

    Heartfelt gratitude and mahalos to all those reponders who did an amazing job last night keeping the fire from our homes and ultimately contained it and extinguished it. But for a favorable wind direction and their good efforts it might’ve been a different outcome. The choppers managed a coreographed aerial show while the Fire Dept crews on the ground worked diligently and tirelessly. And thanks to all the private crews, especially the white water tanker driver (a private electrical Co.) who worked the flames along Poipu Rd. at the point nearest the homes—it looked like whack-a-mole trying to stay ahead of them. And thanks KPD for all your help and coordination.

  2. Puna June 13, 2019 6:50 am Reply

    Now that is excellent reporting right there. Very well written

  3. Rev Dr. Malama June 13, 2019 8:36 am Reply

    Send Grove Farm the bill.
    And…. the County Council Chair should provide a motion to fine GROVE farm from not properly protecting the community by mitigation of the fire risks…. repeatedly!!!

  4. akauaitaxpayer June 13, 2019 11:46 am Reply

    Not the first time for a fire here – probably won’t be the last until the County
    gets serious about fire prevention enforcement.

    Many questions raised about this fire.

    1. When will the real cause of the fire be revealed to the public?
    2. Could it have been prevented by proper land management practices?
    3. How much did the firefighting effort cost Kauai taxpayers – including helicopters and overtime pay?

    1. harry oyama June 13, 2019 9:04 pm Reply

      You’re absolutely right, send Grove Farm the bill as this exact spot another huge fire broke out in the past, destroying a fire engine truck when winds shifted, putting firefighters lives at risk and costing taxpayers money to put out. This recent fire probably cost much more.

      Then one has to wonder why the Water Commission denied that Koloa water company from using a former 8 inch pipe that McBryde used and left running in ditches when they went out of business. Could it be that Grove Farm sent these commissioners fat envelopes stuffed with Benjamins to sway their vote even though it own Water Commission lawyer agreed to have that Koloa Water company keep using that former drinking spring 8 inch pipe supply for its business employing a number of full time employees, which went bankrupt because of that vote?

      Makes you wonder what else Grove Farm has its fingers in your political process?

  5. harryoyama June 13, 2019 3:09 pm Reply

    Speaking about Grove Farm, why is that company still getting priority over millions of gallons of water per day when McBryde Sugar Company is no longer in business using vast amounts of water to irrigate its former sugar fields? Maybe the Water Commission should force Grove Farm to develop and maintain a green zone to prevent future fires from threatening homes in Koloa?

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