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Blaze engulfs Mokauea building

  • CHUCK DONATHAN / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER
    Firefighters were hampered in fighting a blaze on Mokauea Island yesterday because the island has no running water. The fireboat’s water cannon, with its 2,000-gallon-a-minute capacity, could be used only sparingly.
  • with its 2
  • CHUCK DONATHAN SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER
    The fireboat Moku Ahi, right, helped fight the fire that claimed a stilt house on Mokauea Island in Keehi Lagoon yesterday.
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An early morning fire destroyed a one-bedroom structure on Mokauea Island, the site of Oahu’s only fishing village, in Keehi Lagoon.

There were no injuries in the blaze, which broke out just after 5 a.m. yesterday.

The structure was one of four built on stilts on the Ewa end of the island, which is between Honolulu Airport and Honolulu Harbor.

More than 50 firefighters from five engine, two ladder and rescue companies responded to the alarm.

Chuck Donathan, a student at Honolulu Community College’s Marine Education Training Center, said he arrived at the boat landing just as firetrucks were congregating in the parking lot at 5:20 a.m.

"It was fully engulfed," he said.

Flames rising 20 to 30 feet were clearly visible from the landing, he said.

Firefighters were hampered because the island does not have running water.

"It was more challenging than a normal structure fire," said Capt. Terry Seelig, spokesman for the Honolulu Fire Department.

Seelig said about 15 firefighters were shuttled to the island on the department’s 22-foot rescue boat.

The fireboat Moku Ahi, equipped with a water cannon, also responded, but firefighters had to use the gun judiciously because it shoots 2,000 gallons of water a minute, Seelig said.

"We didn’t want to injure anyone or push the fire into another structure," he said.

Seelig said residents living in homes behind the fire were told to leave.

The department’s helicopter used its spotlight to illuminate the structure for the fireboat.

At least four families lease land on the 13.7-acre island, which is owned by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Seelig said that because many people sleep or live on the island, "it was hard to account for everyone."

One woman, who declined to be identified, said her father lived in the burned structure.

By midmorning city officials and family members said no one was injured in the fire, which was extinguished at 7:07 a.m.

The cause is under investigation.

The fire delayed the start of a service project for 50 Farrington High School students.

Jenna Ishii, project manager with the Kai Makana Foundation, an ocean-education organization, said the students are working on a native plant lab on the island and also take water samples from the island’s 2-acre fishpond.

Mokauea was once a self-sustaining settlement. In 1975 the state tried to evict the islanders to build an extension to the Honolulu Airport runway. The state ordered 17 families to leave, then burned the houses.

The fishermen fought back, though, and with the help of Save Our Surf organized the Mokauea Fishermen’s Association.

The state agreed to rebuild their houses according to the building code and set up an educational program for local students to learn about traditional fishing and the reef environment. The Navy provided labor and machinery to build a fishpond on the eastern side of the island.

Electricity on the island is provided by generator, and all supplies are brought in by boat, Ishii said. Residents also recently completed the construction of a composting restroom facility.

The lease will expire in 2043.

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