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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 27, 2003

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.

A Honolulu Fire Department helicopter dips its bucket into the ocean off Sandy Beach to help fight a wind-whipped fire on Koko Crater.

Tourists stopping at the Halona Blow Hole lookout yesterday also saw smoke from a brush fire that burned the makai side of Koko Crater. People at Sandy Beach and the Koko Crater Equestrian Center had to be evacuated.

Firefighters spray water on a hot spot near Kalaniana'ole Highway just mauka of Sandy Beach after a brush fire crept close to the highway's edge. Traffic had to be diverted.

Photos by Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

The fire, which began at 10:27 a.m., burned 50 acres to 100 acres of the makai side of the crater, facing Sandy Beach. Flames climbed to the top of the crater, also forcing the evacuation of the Koko Crater Equestrian Center. No homes were threatened, but nine fire companies, two helicopters and 50 firefighters from as far away as Waipahu battled the blaze, which was contained by 1 p.m. The fire was still burning last night.

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 sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com or 395-8831.