UPDATE: The fire has been contained, with small flare ups within the burned out area, Honolulu Fire Department Captain Jeff Roache reported at about 7:30 p.m. today.
As a hot Thursday afternoon dragged on, Honolulu firefighters continued to battle a brush fire on Waahila Ridge above the campus of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
“Structures are being threatened and fire crews have been positioned to protect homes in the area,” reported HFD Captain Jeff Roache, adding no injuries had been reported and it was unknown how many acres had burned so far.
“The brush fire is also threatening power lines and equipment,” Roache said.
Shortly before 10:30 a.m. Thursday HFD responded to a fire at 2640 Dole Street with 18 units staffed with 58 personnel, the captain reported; after the first unit arrived to find “a working wildland fire,” HFD personnel established command, requested additional resources “and initiated a ground fire attack to prevent further fire spread.”
By afternoon, the ground fire attack was ongoing in coordination with aerial water drops, Roache said, adding the state DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife was also on scene and assisting the firefighting efforts.
Hawaiian Electric sent an alert to Manoa customers to be prepared for possible extended outages because “brush fire is threatening lines and equipment.”
Several utility poles above the company’s East-West substation in the UH area had burned, Hawaiian Electric spokeswoman Shannon Tangonan said, and power to about 600 customers in the general area of Kahaloa Drive, Woodlawn Drive, and Lower Manoa Rd. was initially turned off on circuits where poles and equipment were in the path of the fire.
By 4 p.m., service was restored to all except about 100 customers, but as the fire moved past the University of Hawaiʻi campus and toward Mānoa Valley, there was a possibility the company might need to deenergize its Woodlawn substation, which would affect about 3,000 residential customers but not the UH campus, the alert said.
“It really depends on whether our equipment is being threatened (whether power is turned off or not); we’re closely monitoring the situation,” Tangonan said.
Thursday morning, a campus-wide alert warning that the fire was currently threatening power lines that serve as the primary source to the campus was sent by the university’s communications office.
“If you are not currently on campus, please avoid the area,” the alert added, noting that facilities personnel were closely monitoring the situation and preparing to shut down air conditioning and other critical equipment to buildings across campus if necessary.
“We were warned that there could be a power outage, so we sent the alert to the entire campus, just in case,” said UH spokesperson Daniel Meisenzahl.
By 3 p.m. smoke from the brush fire had reached the neighborhoods on the other side of University Avenue, although it didn’t reach campus until around 2:30 p.m.
“I had friends living in other buildings on campus — lower campus specifically — and they saw the smoke. And they were the ones who called me and asked if there was a fire near me. I couldn’t smell any smoke, but they saw it,” said Haley Scott, a senior at UH and resident assistant at Hale Kahawai and Hale Laulima, two student housing buildings on campus.
The buildings are among the closest to the brush fire, but Scott said there have been no plans to have students evacuate.
“The only precaution that we’ve been taking … is having the residents close their windows so that smoke doesn’t get into their room,” she said.
The Manoa stream is also between the campus and the hill, providing a buffer between campus and the fire.
“We have the Manoa stream in between us,” Scott said. “That hill is pretty much always dead and dry, but once you get closer to the houses on the other side of the stream … it’s pretty lush and green.”
Although smoke is filling the skies above Manoa, authorities informed UH its campus was not immediately threatened due to favorable winds, Meisenzahl said.
Firefighters were situated between the active flames and the campus, he added. The Honolulu Police Department and UH security staff were also on the scene.
The UH-Manoa campus is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19. UH sent a bulletin to all students and staff to avoid East-West Road and Maile Way on campus.