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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 12:04 p.m., Thursday, January 3, 2002

Smoke worse in 2001 for some parts of O'ahu

 •  Kailua community credits hired patrol

By Mike Gordon and Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writers

Fireworks lit the sky around Honolulu on New Year's Eve, but smoke, noise and injuries showed a substantial decline.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Smoke from New Year's Eve fireworks Tuesday night was worse in three O'ahu areas than last year, but did not violate federal clean-air standards.

Gary Gill, state deputy health director, said the preliminary results of data gathered this year was "a little confounding."

"While our worst reading was better than our worst reading last year, which was in Pearl City, the smoke in Honolulu, Kapolei and Liliha exceeded the smoke of last year," Gill said today. "We didn't violate a federal standard, but in three out of four stations on O'ahu, we had more smoke than last year. Go figure."

Health officials measure particulates in the air at six stations across the state. Federal standards are based on a 24-hour period and the average must be less than 150 micrograms per cubic meter, Gill said.

New Year's Eve in Hawai'i produces nearly the same graph each year with "a mountain of smoke" spiking the statistics from about 9 p.m. Dec. 31 to 3 a.m. Jan. 1., Gill said.

In Liliha, the 24-hour average was 116 micrograms per cubic meter this New Year's Eve but its spike topped out at 1,100 micrograms per cubic meter.

"This New Year's in Liliha, the air was worse than the worst day in Los Angeles, the worst day in New York, in Chicago or Denver or Houston," Gill said.

Even without other monitoring stations, Gill said other areas were "certainly worse" than Liliha, such as valleys or similar places where smoke was more contained.

There were fewer injuries and police calls during New Year's Eve celebrations on O'ahu this year, officials said.

Honolulu sold 4,401 of the $25 permits that were required to purchase up to 5,000 firecrackers, 32 percent less than the 6,427 permits sold last year.

Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Kenison Tejada said fire department calls appeared to have increased slightly this year over last, but it was not clear if fireworks were part of the increases.

There were 15 fireworks-related calls on New Year's Eve, but some of another 14 undetermined cases might have involved fireworks, he said.

Tejada said a depressed economy and reluctance to use fireworks since the Sept. 11 attacks may also have contributed to the decline in permits.

The Honolulu Police Department said it received 790 fireworks-related calls between the day after Christmas and the day after New Year's, about 29 percent fewer calls than last year.

Three adults and one juvenile were cited by police for fireworks violations, compared with nine adults cited and one adult and one juvenile arrested last year.

The only fatality remotely connected with fireworks was an accident in which a Waialua man who was hanging fireworks fell from a five-foot wall and hit his head on a rock, police said.

The Emergency Services Department, which runs ambulance operations, said "only a handful" of its 478 calls in two days were fireworks-related. Only two individuals — one in Pearl City with an eye injury and another in Kailua having difficulty breathing — were taken to hospitals.

Douglas Yee, president of the American Lung Association's Hawaii chapter, said he drove around Honolulu close to midnight and saw significant pockets of air pollution all over town, possibly caused by fireworks other than firecrackers.

"I don't think we have eliminated the problem," Yee said.

Most Neighbor Islands reported similar trends. Big Island police Lt. Kenneth Vierra said there were fewer injuries and fires. "It was a good New Year's here," said Vierra.

Fire officials agreed.

Kaua'i fire Capt. Dennis Aquino said there seemed to be fewer fireworks exploded on Kaua'i than in previous years. The department issued 416 permits, down from 626 last year.

Aquino said some stores seemed to have smaller stocks, and ran out and that may have deterred people from buying non-refundable permits.

He said there were seven small brushfires on New Year's Eve, three on New Year's Day, and no major incidents.

Maui may have been the exception in fireworks permits. Lt. Scott English of Maui Department of Fire Control's Fire Prevention Bureau said more permits were sold in Wailuku this year than last; numbers from other stations were still being tallied.

English said officials are looking into whether a roof fire that caused $50,000 damage to a retail complex at 505 Front Street at 3:45 a.m. Tuesday was caused by fireworks.

There were a handful of other minor fireworks-related complaints on Maui, but no arrests or injuries.

Advertiser staff writers Christie Wilson, Hugh Clark and Jan TenBruggencate contributed to this report.