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Waianae fire remains a threat as residents again asked to evacuate

By Star-Advertiser Staff and News Services

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 08:22 p.m. HST, Jun 05, 2012


Six Honolulu fire companies, aided by the Fire Department and Marine Corps helicopters, continue to battle a 1,000-acre fire in Waianae and Lualualei valleys, the largest wildfire on Oahu so far this year.

Just after 2 o’clock this afternoon, emergency officials said residents of Haleahi Road are being asked to evacuate due to the increased brushfire hazard. The American Red Cross has a shelter available at Waianae District Park.

Firefighters returned today to the area where the fire burned to within a few feet of homes when flames flared up  at about 7:45 a.m. near an orchid farm on Haleahi Road in the back of Waianae Valley.

Federal fire investigators have located the origin of the fire on Navy land, but haven’t been able to determine the cause of the blaze, a Navy spokeswoman said.

By 1:30 p.m. today the concern of city and federal fire officials was the blaze that continue to burn on the ridge above Lualualei and Waianae Valleys.

The Honolulu Fire Department requested that residents of Waianae Valley especially Kuwale and Haleahi roads remain clear of the area so that firefighters and their equipment can continue wildfire operations.

On Monday afternoon, the fire came as close as 25 feet to homes in Waianae valley and within about 75 feet to structures in Lualualei valley, said Fire Capt. Terry Seelig.

Seelig said the fire is burning in several directions because of the wind, making it a challenge for firefighters to control. They worry the fire will crawl over to Makaha Valley.

Six fire companies are monitoring the area for hot spots and supplying water to helicopters today. Another 15 companies that spent the night battling the 1,000-acre fire, were released  at 5:30 this morning, Seelig said.

Seelig said the fire at the base of the Waianae Mountain Range near the Lualualei Naval Magazine has been contained, Seelig said. However, the fire on the ridge is still “actively burning.”

The wildfire is believed to have started near the Navy’s radio transmitting facility in Lualualei at about 1:15 p.m. Monday.

However, the fire never threatened the naval facility which employs 120 civilians and uniformed Navy personnel. No one was evacuated from the Navy facility On Monday and operations resumed without incident this morning.

Fueled by keawe, haole koa and thick grass brush and strong winds, the fire jumped over the ridge and began burning downhill in Waianae Valley.  At night, the flames looked like a lava flow coming down the mountain.

About 115 firefighters battled the fire from Monday afternoon through the morning.

No homes were damaged, although Seelig said some farming structures may have been destroyed.

Helicopters resumed operations at first light using a park near Kaneaki Street in Waianae Valley to pick up water to drop on the flames.

The department’s helicopter working on the ridge fire, while Marine Corps helicopters are dropping water near the naval facility.

The Navy said two CH-53 helicopters from Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay and three air crews have been dispatched to Waianae.

On Monday, police helped firefighters ask residents of more than a dozen homes in the back of Waianae Valley, most of them along Haleahi Road near what is known as Camp Waianae, to evacuate, Seelig said.

The Hawaii Chapter of the American Red Cross set up a shelter at Waianae District Park, but many residents stuck by their properties or stood nearby as firefighters did their work.

The Watts family watched as flames as high as 5 feet jumped across Haleahi Road to within 50 feet of their home.

"Everything we could hose, we hosed," said Bernie Watts. Watts said she grateful for the firefighters who came as far away as Palolo, Manoa and Olomana to help save her home.

All that stood between their home and the fire were a berm that the family had put up in anticipation of a fire, and the firefighters.

Norman Carlos, whose family's home is on the mauka side of Haleahi Road, said he and his family evacuated by 6 p.m.. Firefighters told him that flames destroyed parts of a fence and clothes lines but that they were able to save his house.

Flames also came close to cabins at Camp Wai­anae, a Seventh-day Adventist camp for churches and schools.

Caretaker/camp ranger Darryl Roberts said no guests were there Monday, but he sent his wife and four girls, ages 11, 10, 3 and 2, away "because the smoke was really bad."

"Campers are coming tomorrow," Roberts said. "Lucky thing they weren't here today, or else they would have had to evacuate."







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