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Hawaii island brush fire destroys home, forces evacuations

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Hawaii County firefighters worked Monday night to stop the spread of a brush fire that consumed one house in Naalehu and forced families to evacuate their homes.

“There’s still a lot of unburned fuel,” assistant fire chief Gantry Andrade said at 8 p.m. Monday. “The fire is not under control and there are continous flareups.”

The fire was reported at 50 percent contained at about 9 p.m. Monday, when resident were allowed to return to their homes and advised to expect smoky conditions throughout the night. 

The home destroyed by fire was one of 11 evacuated Monday morning.

As of 8 p.m., the fire had not spread beyond 15 acres of dry brush, but winds continued to blow.

Highways and major roadways remained open however some roads within the subdivisions had been closed and motorists were advised to avoid the area.

Kaalualu/Waiohinu Road, the main thoroughfare through the Green Sands Subdivision, was reopened at 8 p.m.

Windy conditions, rough terrain and a thick overgrowth of Christmasberry trees, and guinea and fountain grasses have made it difficult to control the blaze.

Andrade said the Hawaii Fire Department got a call Monday morning from someone who said he “had started a controlled burn, but the fire got away from them.”

Late Monday afternoon, the Fire Department called it a “runaway brush fire” that was continuing to burn out of control.

Andrade, who was not at the scene, counted 70 to 80 rooftops from an online map in the small subdivision, but did not know whether they were houses, sheds or garages.

The winds were clocked at 20 to 25 knots (23 mph to 28 mph) during the day, Andrade said.

He said fire suppression efforts would likely continue through the night.

Firefighters were expected to wait until the winds die down, typically in the evening, to bring fire lines into the area.

The fire, which started at 10:36 a.m., was in the areas of Pele and Mark Twain Roads.

Firefighters were fighting it on the ground and by air. Two helicopters, one from the fire department and one privately owned, have been making water drops.

Two bulldozers, one county and one private, cut firebreaks, Andrade said.

County officials said residents had been advised to evacuate the subdivision due to high winds and heavy smoke conditions. The American Red Cross said Monday  opened a shelter at Na’alehu Community Center, which will remain open for anyone who wants to stay.

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