Family trapped by fire

Familytrapped by fire

20 February 2007

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Wailuku, HI, USA — A rapidly spreading wildfire abovePuamana scorched nearly 1,000 acres of brush Monday, putting hillside homes inharm’s way and forcing the evacuation of at least one residence, said DeputyFire Chief Neal Bal.

“Several homes were threatened, butthe helicopters were spending most of their time trying to protect those homes,so there’s no direct threat at the moment,” Bal said around 7:15 p.m. Monday.

Bal said six family members were trapped in their house and needed to beflown out of danger with a helicopter.

“At first, they didn’t want to leave,” Bal said. “They stayed intheir house and had to be evacuated out.”

Maui Fire Department officials said the fire was first reported at 11:52 a.m. Monday and had burned nearly 1,000 acres above the Puamana Subdivision by nightfall.

“The fire started off pretty small, then just spread real quick,” said Puamana resident Ross Scott, as he watched the flames from his driveway.

At first, only a small plume of smoke signaled the start of trouble in a brush area below Scott’s property. He noticed the smoke while he was on his porch.

“At first, it looked like a little campfire,” Scott said. “The next thing I know, it looked like a chemical fire because the smoke was really black.”

“It went from a little fire to a big fire in five minutes,” he said.

Winds blew the flames away from Scott’s house, but he said he remained vigilant to see if their direction would shift.

“Right now, the winds are working good for us, but they can switch quickly,” Scott said early Monday afternoon.

Bal said the fire started in a brush area about 100 to 200 yards mauka from Honoapiilani Highway, then spread up the slopes of Paupau, or Mount Ball.

Deputy Fire Chief Neal Bal said helicopter crews dropped water on the fire until nightfall Monday to protect nearby homes (photo: Lehia Apana)

Multiple fire engines, county firefighters, wildland crews, water tankers andheavy equipment were dispatched to the scene. Heavy equipment was brought in tocut a path for firefighters.

In addition, three helicopters shuttled back and forth with buckets of waterto assist firefighters battling flames on the upper slopes of the West MauiMountains.

Bal said helicopters were grounded by nightfall. The aircraft were expectedto resume water drops “by first light” today, he said. Fire crews patrolledthe area overnight.

Puamana resident Dave Byars said he was at work when he learned about thefire around noon. He said he rushed home to find 30- to 40-foot flames engulfingthe brush area along a gulch that runs up the mountain.

He also observed wind sending the blaze up the mountain and away from hishome.

“Unless we have some kind of wind shift, I’m pretty confident it’sgoing uphill at this point,” Byars said about 1 p.m.

Another resident, Marla Braun-Ortego, watched the fire from a distance andwatched the wind direction carefully Monday afternoon.

She said her house was about 200 feet from one edge of the fire, but that thewinds seemed to be pushing the fire mauka.

“The wind is carrying it up and away from our home,”

said Braun-Ortega as she watched the flames. “Luckily, the winds aren’tblowing toward us, but I’m still nervous because our house is right there.”

Braun-Ortega voluntarily evacuated two horses and five dogs from her home byabout 1:30 p.m.

Kihei resident Carol Rosetta was horseback riding with a friend near the topof the ridge when she noticed the flames below.

“When we first saw it, it looked like a small little fire,” Rosetta said.

She said the flames spread “up and then out” from where she originallynoticed the fire.

“It started below in the dry area, then moved up along a gulch and thenspread across pretty quickly,” she said.

Dan Snyder, who was observing the fire from just above Honoapiilani Highway,said he wasn’t surprised at how fast the flames seemed to be moving.

“The area is really dry, and a fire can spread really quick,” Snyder said.

Joan Morris, who was working as a lifeguard at the Lahaina Aquatic Centerwhen she first noticed the fire, agreed that the fire seemed to spread rapidly.

“It was very small at first, then spread quickly up and across the mountain,”Morris said.

Bal said the cause of the fire was unknown Monday evening.

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