Brushfire lights up Makaha night
|Photo gallery: Makaha fire|
MAKAHA — Dozens of Makaha Valley residents began returning to their homes last night after a smoky brushfire forced them to flee the area.
The fire, however, continued to burn out of control past 10 p.m., and officials said they did not know when it would be contained.
It was the biggest brushfire on the Island since a weeklong blaze in August burned an estimated 7,000 acres in Waialua.
At one point early in the evening, the fire moved to within several hundred yards of the 20-story Makaha Valley Towers apartment complex, sending thick smoke into many of the units there and prompting officials to recommend a voluntary evacuation.
At least several dozen people left their homes, but most were able to return a few hours later as the fire burned past the towers and the smoke cleared, said Capt. Frank Johnson, a Fire Department spokesman.
"I grabbed my teddy bear and my blanket and left," said Chasity Davis, a Makaha Valley Towers resident who was moving down Kili Drive away from the fire just before 6 p.m.
Security guards started moving through the building about 5:30 and telling people to leave. "It was very smoky in there," Davis said.
Other residents chose to close their doors, turn on their air conditioning and wait out the fire.
"The flames are very big and the smoke is quite thick outside, but we're inside with our air conditioning," said Paul Cambeilh, speaking by phone from his 16th-story apartment. "We were advised to evacuate, but we're not going unless it gets much worse."
Johnson said electricity to the area remained on throughout the evening, allowing residents to run air conditioners and keep their doors and windows closed if they chose to stay inside their apartments.
"Some people chose to stay, but others thought it prudent to find somewhere else to go," he said.
By 8 p.m. the fire on the west ridge of the valley had mostly bypassed Makaha Valley Towers apartment complex and was moving away from the buildings, Johnson said.
Although some smoke lingered in the area, many residents were choosing to return to their homes by 10 p.m., he said.
"It's gotten much better, but there's still some concern for the residents," he said.
About 60 firefighters were fighting the blaze last night; many of them had been used earlier in the evening to provide a ring of protection around the two towers.
Johnson said the Fire Department had not ordered an evacuation of the building but advised residents to move away from the smoke.
"You could see the smoke right between the buildings there," he said. "So we felt that the prudent thing for people is to move because it doesn't make sense to hang out in the smoke."
At one point, the fire burned on the ridgeline directly behind both buildings in the complex.
As the sun set, flames on the hillside behind the building appeared to be climbing about 20 feet into the sky, witnesses said.
Late last night, the fire, which burned more than 100 acres, was moving up a hillside and away from firefighters. There was no immediate estimate of how long it would take to bring the blaze under control, Johnson said.