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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 1, 2004

Firefighters battle fire at Sand Island recycling-yard

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Black smoke billows from Island Recycling on Sand Island as the 'Alapa Hoe Canoe Club practices in Ke'ehi Lagoon. The four-alarm fire eluded control last night by 70 city firefighters joined by federal and state airport crews.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Honolulu Fire Department pumped water onto the burning recycling yard, which lacked nearby hydrants.

John F. Looney • Special to The Advertiser

Firefighters late last night contained a fire at a recycling storage yard where old tires, bales of cardboard and other materials fueled an inferno that filled the air with flames and thick, black smoke that could be seen for miles.

The four-alarm fire at Island Recycling Inc. at 50 Sand Island Access Road was reported at 5:03 p.m. Witnesses said the fire spread quickly.

Clyde Miyashiro, an employee at Island Copier Specialist, said he was loading his car when he heard the commotion. His office is less than 100 yards from Island Recycling.

"It's nothing like I've ever seen closeup before," Miyashiro said of the fire. "It's actually scary when you see the black smoke."

George Nihei, who works for Hawai'i Pacific Concrete and Paving, said he was glad for the stiff trade winds yesterday that blew most of the thick smoke out to sea. But he said he was concerned about surrounding businesses.

"There are a lot of small businesses back there, so if that goes, a lot of people would be unhappy," Nihei said.

Sixteen Honolulu Fire Department companies battled the blaze, along with an airport crash unit and a federal fire company. Honolulu fire spokesman Capt. Emmit Kane said more than 70 firefighters, including some from as far away as Olomana and Hau'ula, fought the blaze.

At 10:30 last night, Kane said the fire was contained but that several hotspots continued to smolder. He said firefighters would likely be at the scene until early this morning to extinguish the fire.

Kane said the fire was one of the largest non-brushfires on O'ahu in recent memory.

"This fire had a large flame and smoke involvement, so just the sheer size of this fire required the dedication of a lot of resources," he said.

No one was reported injured, and there were no reports of damage to neighboring properties. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Island Recycling officials could not be reached for comment last night.

Kane said the fire was difficult to fight because the storage yard was filled with old tires and bundles of cardboard stacked 40 feet high, and there were no fire hydrants nearby. Fire crews had to pump water through several fire engines.

He said the airport crash unit provided key support because it was able to spray foam on the fire.

"With petroleum-based fires like the tires, the foam is a little bit more effective than common water," Kane said.

The heavy smoke also posed a health concern.

"Each tire is worth about 2 gallons of oil when it starts to burn, and you get a lot of thick, black smoke, and in that black smoke are some inhalation hazards, things that we don't want people breathing," said Mike Cripps, on-scene coordinator with the Department of Health's Hazard Evaluation Emergency Response team.

Carroll Cox, president of EnviroWatch Inc., said he filed complaints with the Department of Health and city Department of Planning and Permitting last December about Island Recycling's storage practices. He said the company was "operating way beyond the legal bounds" that were allowed under its solid waste permit.

Among his complaints, Cox said the plant stored metal from the city's HPOWER plant that is high in lead and dioxins. He also warned of fire risks because there was no adequate water supply to the facility.

Cripps said his office will look into the allegations of illegal storage on the property.