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.