Faulty light ballast evacuates prosecutor’s office

The Maui County prosecutor’s office in the old Wailuku courthouse was evacuated twice Wednesday after something smoldering in a vent set off a smoke alarm in the morning with the smell returning in the afternoon, officials said.

The cause turned out to be a burned out light ballast in the administrative office, according to fire officials.

Wailuku and Kihei firefighters and a fire hazardous materials crew responded to the 8:15 a.m. alarm, evacuating the building, said Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga. Firefighters checked the building and couldn’t find anything burning, even after using a thermal imager that can detect hidden fires.

The air-conditioning system was checked after it was noticed that the smell went away after the air conditioner was turned off, Mainaga said.

Maui County Prosecuting Attorney John D. Kim said that employees were allowed to return to the building. But after lunch, the building was again evacuated and closed when the smell returned, Kim said.

He compared the smell to a computer burning or overheating, and it seemed to be coming from the vent.

After another investigation, firefighters could not discover the cause of the smell, Mainaga said.

Managing Director Keith Regan, who was on vacation, responded and it was decided to close the building. At 1:30 p.m., the approximately 60 people working in the building, including attorneys and support staff, were told to leave.

A Maui County Public Works engineer on site was instructed to call an electrician to check on the electrical system. At about 3:30 p.m., the source of the odor was identified by the electrician.

A burned out light ballast in the administrative office was the culprit, said Mainaga.