Fire at Koko Crater forces beach evacuation
By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer
A wind-whipped brush fire on the flanks of Koko Crater burned to the edge of Kalaniana'ole Highway yesterday, forcing lifeguards at nearby Sandy Beach to evacuate beachgoers, who could hear the crackling flames 50 yards away.
At one point flames went right up to the pavement of Kalaniana'ole Highway, forcing the evacuation of a parking lot and a portion of the popular body-surfing spot.
Thick smoke forced police to close off Kalaniana'ole from Kealahou Street to the Halona Blow Hole in both directions and divert traffic through Hawai'i Kai. Once the fire was contained, the road and beach were reopened.
The fire began by the sewage treatment plant, across from Sandy Beach.
"We evacuated the cars in the lot first and then the beach," said lifeguard Ryan Reasoner. "It was a precautionary measure in case the winds switch, which they do frequently here."
The fire was particularly difficult to fight because of the steep terrain, said Capt. Emmit Kane of the Honolulu Fire Department.
Once the fire reached the hillside of the crater, access by foot was difficult, Kane said.
"Our personnel cannot get on the crater," Kane said. "It's too steep."
As a result, the fire department had asked the Air National Guard and the Army to be on standby in case additional air support was necessary.
Below the crater, owners corralled 31 stabled horses as far away from the billowing smoke as possible at the Koko Crater Equestrian Center. Workers were prepared to water down the corrals with garden hoses if necessary, said Mike Martin, who works at the stables.
Initially, officials thought the fire was sparked by a downed electrical pole that was knocked over by heavy equipment moving rocks in the area, said Jose Dizon, Hawaiian Electric Co. spokesman. But the minor power outage that resulted from the toppled pole was unrelated to the fire, Dizon said.
Fire officials did not yet know what caused the fire.
Reach Suzanne Roig at firstname.lastname@example.org or 395-8831.