Smoke and an as-yet unseen fire prompted the evacuation of the Ala Moana Center food court on Friday afternoon.
Honolulu Fire Department personnel responding to a 2:37 p.m. alarm found light smoke in the area near the Sbarro and Senor Pepe takeout counters.
The shopping center’s sprinkler systems had already activated, indicating the presence of a fire, although no fire had yet been located as of 4 p.m., according to HFD spokesman Capt. David Jenkins.
Jenkins said the fire may have occurred somewhere within Makai Market’s extensive ventilation system.
As of 4:30 p.m., firefighters were still searching for the origin of the smoke.
Employees from Sbarro first alerted center security to the smoke.
Angeline Andres, a Senor Pepe employee, said she and her co-workers had noticed excessive smoke coming from a vent hood at Sbarro earlier in the day but were not aware of anything more serious until the sprinklers activated and an evacuation was initiated.
Ala Moana Center security evacuated the ground-level food court, as well as areas directly above the food court on the second and third levels, according to a statement from center management.
“It was really scary,” Andres said. “There was a big rush of people all heading for the doors.”
Andres said the eating area was nearly full when the evacuation began.
An hour after the food court was cleared, employees more than 30 restaurants lingered outside, some waiting to close their registers and secure their facilities, others wondering what was to become of their scheduled shifts.