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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Maui wildfire fight not over

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Fire lit up the smoke-filled sky early yesterday near Olowalu along Honoapi‘ilani Highway, which was closed temporarily.

Maui Police Department

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A West Maui brushfire that burned 1,100 acres in the Olowalu area remained uncontained last night after it closed Honoapi'ilani Highway for 8 1/4 hours and prompted the temporary evacuation of about 100 residents.

The fire was first reported at 2:25 p.m. Monday in an area mauka of Ukumehame.

There were no reports of injuries or property damage and the cause of the fire remained under investigation.

No commercial air traffic was disrupted, said Tammy Mori, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

But county bus service was delayed when officials closed Honoapi'ilani Highway from Mā'alaea to Launiupoko Park at 1:30 a.m. yesterday as flames approached the roadway.

Vehicle traffic through Kahakuloa was allowed for Wailuku-bound traffic only.

Shifting winds caused flames to approach homes in the Olowalu residential area. Maui County police officers began going door to door shortly before 1 a.m. to begin evacuation of an estimated 100 Olowalu residents.

The highway was reopened at 10 a.m. yesterday. But lingering congestion and traffic disruptions meant 38 of Lahainaluna High School's 70 teachers did not report to class, Principal Michael Nakano said.

"You're either stuck on this side or you're stuck on the other side," Nakano said. "Some of the teachers finally made it to school around 1 o'clock."

Most of the school's 980 students live near the campus and student attendance was normal, Nakano said.

But missing nearly half of Lahainaluna's teachers meant some classes were held in the cafeteria as study hall periods.

"We could smell smoke and there was haze in the air," Nakano said. The students "were calm. This is something that occurs quite often."

Five helicopters yesterday assisted firefighters on the ground with water drops. Twenty-five county firefighters were joined yesterday by 15 members of the state Department of Forestry and Wildlife's wild-land fire crew. Five bulldozers were used to create fire breaks along Honoapi'ilani Highway and around the Olowalu residential area.

By 5:30 p.m. Monday, when the fire had consumed 100 acres, police had urged residents living mauka of Honoapi'ilani Highway near Olowalu General Store to be prepared to leave, though there was no threat at the time.

The American Red Cross opened emergency shelters at Lahaina Civic Center and the War Memorial Gym in Wailuku for people who may become displaced.

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