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No injuries, damage reported from brush fire; residents evacuated at Ulu Wini

KALOKO — Residents of 24 units at The Homes at Ulu Wini were evacuated from their homes Friday afternoon as firefighters battled a brush fire makai of the housing development.

Anthony Savvis, youth program director at the low-income rental and transitional housing complex, said Friday afternoon they had every intention of getting the evacuated families back in their homes later in the day.

“As long as we get the A-OK from the fire department we’re looking forward to getting the families back in there as soon as possible,” he said.

As of about 3:30 p.m., he said, there were no reports of property damage or injuries in the area as a result of the blaze, and at about 4:30 p.m. Hawaii County Civil Defense reported that the fire was “under control,” while asking people to continue avoiding the area as fire crews were still working.

Fire officials were not able to provide additional details Friday evening.

Savvis said they were running a winter program for the youth in the community when they started to smell a scent “very reminiscent of a barbecue.”

But as he noticed the scent getting stronger, he went to investigate and saw “a real gentle white smoke” between The Homes at Ulu Wini and the area of Costco, which is located makai of the development.

After making a report to emergency officials, he started to evacuate families with small children and elderly people who live in Ulu Wini’s A-Block, the most makai six-building complex within the development. There are 24 units in that block, Savvis said.

They also coordinated with staff at The Food Basket and Habitat for Humanity Hawaii Island, both of which are located in a building immediately south of the A-Block complex.

“And then I noticed the smoke change color and get way more intense,” Savvis said, “and that the winds were picking up also at that time.”

As the situation intensified, he said, they evacuated the remaining families in A-Block for safety. That was the only block of units that was evacuated.

Savvis said he called emergency officials again, saying the blaze appeared to be quickly moving toward them and that they had taken steps to evacuate the closest residents. He also advised fire officials of access points in the area that responders could use to combat the fire.

Savvis said they were waiting on a recommendation from the fire department as to whether the families who were evacuated would be able to return to their homes.

By 3 p.m. smoke was wafting throughout Ulu Wini and visible from Queen Kaahumanu Highway, and intermittent flames could be seen cropping up on some of the brush near Ulu Wini.

Numerous emergency responders and vehicles were on scene responding to the fire. Immediately behind the building housing The Food Basket and Habitat for Humanity, hoses were spraying water over the koa haole and brush immediately makai of the development.

From there, a helicopter could also be seen dropping water on the blaze farther out. And around 3:45 p.m., a dozer took to clearing the brush closest to the property.

Many of the residents who had been evacuated or chose to leave their homes gathered outside the community center while others got together on Hina Lani Street, which connects to Ulu Wini Place.

Kahea Koanui, 17, was at home in her apartment when her dad, who works at Honokohau Harbor, saw the fire and called her.

Koanui said she didn’t see any flames, only smoke, and called her mother, who was also at work.

“I tried to remain calm but still end up panicking,” she said.

She started getting clothes and other belongings together, she said, and her neighbors knocked on her door offering to give her a ride.

Koanui’s mother, Crystal Subica, said her daughter called her about the fire at about 2:30 p.m., adding that the fire department arrived on scene roughly around the same time.

Koanui was the only one in the family home at the time, Subica said, and got out safely.

And altogether, it was a scary experience, she added.

“This is our first encounter with a fire being so close,” Subica said, “so pretty scary.”
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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