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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 1, 2006

Fires keep crews busy into new year

By Karen Blakeman and Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writers

Sarah Gonzales, 4, lit fireworks in Kalihi as her family watched. Fireworks could be set off legally from 9 p.m. yesterday to 1 a.m. today.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Five-year-old Marika Wojtal played with a sparkler in Kalihi where friends and family gathered to celebrate the New Year. Although plenty of people set off fireworks across the state, some said the celebrations this year seemed low key.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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From left, cousins Sarah Gonzales, 4, Lauren Gonzales, 4, and Jenevie Gonzales, 8, celebrated the end of 2005 and the beginning of the New Year by twirling sparklers in their hands. The kids were with their families at a New Year’s Eve celebration in Kalihi.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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A large fireworks box at Daiei caught the eye of Efren Gonzales. “Oh, I gotta get this,” Gonzales said he told himself when he saw the box. He got it with a permit.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Frank Park, and his wife, Chanda, hoisted a string of fireworks that they were about to light at a relative’s home in Kalihi.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Mark Macapagal, 6, of Kalihi, lit fireworks last night while his father, Lito Macapagal, watched.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Scores of brush and rubbish fires kept the Honolulu Fire Department busy as the New Year arrived, but no fire deaths or serious injuries were immediately reported.

The many fires may not have been huge, but they kept firefighters and dispatchers so busy they didn't have time to give details on them to reporters. There were many reports on fire department radio frequencies of brushfires on Wai'anae Valley Road. At midnight, Fire Department dispatchers said they were too slammed with calls to answer any questions.

The only significant building fire was at 2463 Kuhio Ave. Firefighters had few details at 12:40 a.m., but said a woman and her child were displaced from the home.

As the New Year got under way, a cloud of burnt-scented smoke drifted over Honolulu, the crackling din of exploding fireworks rained out like shaken foil over the rooftops and spectacular plumes of glittering color burst skyward in waves from pyrotechnic shows at Waikiki Beach and the Aloha Tower.

All during the evening's countdown to midnight, brushfire calls on the police and fire radios grew more frequent.

By 9 p.m., when the use of fireworks became legal, firefighters had already tallied 60 fireworks-related blazes, two of which involved buildings, HFD Capt. Kenison Tejada said.

An abandoned building in Kahuku and a garage in Kalihi sustained minor damage, he said. The other blazes were brushfires, rubbish fires, tree fires and dumpster fires.

"The west side has the majority of the brush fires right now," he said at about 11:40 p.m.

On Friday, O'ahu firefighters fought at least 14 fireworks-related fires, Tejada said. That's despite the fact that fireworks can legally be set off only from 9 p.m. Dec. 31 until 1 a.m. Jan. 1.

Honolulu officials sold at least as many fireworks permits as the 12,662 sold last year. But many fires are started by aerials and other illegal fireworks.

Calls to Emergency Medical Services started picking up as the evening went on, but nothing unusual had been reported by 10:45 p.m., and the only fireworks-related problems were shortness of breath calls because of the smoke in Waipahu.

EMS district chief Pat Jones had anticipated the problem while watching aerials go off three hours earlier.

District chief Eddie Fujioka said the emergency calls were pretty average and nothing that overwhelmed EMS resources. "It's a typical kind of New Year's night, nothing unusual," he said.

The biggest emergency was a stabbing in Pearl City, where a 25- to 30-year-old man was stabbed in the abdomen and sent to The Queen's Medical Center in critical condition.

Police on the Big Island, like those on O'ahu, also battled fireworks-related nuisance fires.

"Brushfires throughout the day. Nothing big — so far," Battalion Chief Darren Rosario said just before 7:30 p.m.

At 8:30 p.m. on the 1500 block of Leilani Street in Kalihi, the Aranda family celebration, a tradition since 1987, was in full swing. Dozens of family and friends gathered, ferrying food and beverages back and forth. The dishes ranged from pork and peas to pinakbet to billy goat.

"Everyone brings their own," said Remy Arnada-Lau, as a quarter of beef turned on a spit amid the noise of firecrackers and the glitter of sparklers.

People in the neighborhood surrounding the Kamehameha Community Park said that despite the raucous noise that created a "war zone" atmosphere, celebrations so far this year seemed a bit low-key compared to past years.

Large family celebrations at several houses were anything but quiet.

At Sulia Lua's home on Fernandez Street, children kept sparklers, screamers and jumping jacks constantly lit in the driveway, while Lua hung back in the carport keeping watch over a food table loaded with turkey and trimmings, as well as champagne to pop open at midnight.

Her next-door neighbors, who were sharing the celebration for the first time, had even more food inside. "It's very cool," she said, over music kept loud enough to be heard over the constant explosions.

Nearby on Lohilani Street, where cars had to weave around the fireworks thrown into the road, a group of teens supplemented their store-bought explosives with homemade "cannons" crafted from soda cans and duct tape and fueled with lighter fluid.

On Gulick Street, about 10 people gathered at Carlos Basa's house, popping their own firecrackers and kicking back to watch everyone else's.

"The beer helps fill in the gaps," joked Kurt Cayetano.

As Darrell Basa pointed out, there was plenty to watch when they took breaks from lighting their own fireworks.

For example, across the street, two houses on Gertz Lane had ladders leaning into the street to support the numerous strings of red firecrackers the families and friends planned to light.

Party guest Frank Park couldn't even begin to estimate how many dollars in fireworks his friends burn. "It's a lot," he said. "Between the two houses, we pop a lot. It's a tradition on this lane."

His wife Chandra added, "Every year we light up this whole block."

Good food was in abundance, too, including crab legs, sashimi and shrimp, and a laundry room stocked with a full bar. Emily Fuller pointed out that all the adults had shot glasses hanging around their necks, so they'd always have something to drink from.

Big Island authorities responded to a fatal accident at about 3:30 p.m. yesterday on Route 19 near Wainaku scenic point above Hilo Bay.

Battalion Chief Rosario said the victim was a man in his mid-60s who lived near the scene of the accident and often walked or hitchhiked into Hilo.

The victim was pinned beneath a pickup truck that had flipped onto him, Rosario said. The driver of the truck refused treatment, and police continued to interview him after firefighters had left the scene.

On O'ahu, a motorcyclist was killed at 8 a.m. yesterday

The 37-year-old man, thought to have been speeding, lost control of his 2001 Yamaha sports bike at Ka'ahele and Ho'olopuni streets. His death marked Ho-nolulu's 78th fatal accident of year, compared with 70 in 2004.

Reach Karen Blakeman at kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com and Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com.