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Makakilo residents vacate as blaze chars 100 acres

By Gordon Y.K. Pang and Gregg K. Kakesako


LAST UPDATED: 4:54 a.m. HST, Nov 9, 2011

A brush fire burned more than 100 acres, got within 25 yards of a Makakilo subdivision and forced about 25 to 30 people to evacuate their homes Tuesday.

Two westbound lanes of H-1 freeway about one mile before the Makakilo offramp were closed for several hours as firefighters fought the blaze, which began near the freeway in an area below the Makakilo Quarry, said fire Capt. Terry Seelig.

Bob Creps, vice president of Grace Pacific, which owns Makakilo Quarry, said the fire was at the western perimeter of the quarry.

The blaze was first reported at about 10:30 a.m. near the eastern flank of the Kahiwelo subdivision, a newly developed D.R. Horton project that welcomed its first homeowners two years ago and is still under construction. Residents along Ohio and Kulihi streets were evacuated at about 11:05 a.m.

Some residents were allowed to return to their homes by about noon. The fire was declared under control about 12:30 p.m., although firefighters remained through much of the afternoon putting out hot spots.

Investigators were looking into the cause of the fire.

Tracie Navarra, who lives at the end of Ohio Street, said she smelled smoke but couldn't see any flames. Emergency operators told her there was a fire one valley over but that it was under control, she said.

"And then I saw it creep over the mountain, so I called again and they said they were going to send someone out," Navarra said. "The flames started coming quickly; it was like coming over the mountain."

The flames reached about 25 to 50 yards from the back lawn of the Navarras' home, which overlooks the gulch where the flames spread.

The scene was frightening, she said.

Navarra grabbed the dog and put it in her car with the air conditioning running, then realized she had not taken other personal keepsakes such as wedding pictures.

Husband Jon Navarra, who works in Manoa at the University of Hawaii, was called home and said he started to panic when he saw black smoke rising from Makakilo as he was driving on the freeway in Pearl City.

"I was frightened. I wanted to make sure my wife was all right," he said.

Seelig said it was clear that a strong tradewind contributed to the fast-moving blaze. "With this wind we're definitely going to spend some time, about three to four hours, to try to extinguish all of those spots that are still burning and make sure there are no spots that might flare up later," he said.

The blaze was a challenge for firefighters because it was in a gulch. "It's not very easy to get fire hose and firefighters into position," Seelig said.

Two helicopters helped pour buckets of water on the smoky fire. Also fighting the blaze were nine engines and five tankers, about 60 firefighters in all.

Smoke continued to be a problem for residents even after the fire was contained. The Navarras and others wore masks to protect themselves.

Seelig stressed that firefighters were able to respond to the fire quickly and that the situation was proof that shifting resources to assist with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering this week is not affecting regular fire operations.

"Our ability to respond to any emergency on the island has not in any way been affected by the service we're providing for the APEC visitors," Seelig said. "The plan we have in place there is not impacting our ability to take care of the rest of the island at all."

At about 1 p.m. a brush fire broke out near the H-1 eastbound lanes near the Kunia offramp. But that fire was put out by 2 p.m.

It burned about a quarter-acre, Seelig said.

Two eastbound lanes of the H-1 freeway in the Waipahu-Kunia area were closed temporarily.

Hawaii News Now video: Firefighters battle Makakilo brush fire; homes evacuated

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