Two fires burn close to schools

Two unscheduled cane fires caused evacuations at Doris Todd Memorial Christian School and came within a few hundred feet of Paia School on Wednesday afternoon.

Paia School was closed and deserted before 3:30 p.m. and heavy smoke from the fires led to the closure of parts of Baldwin Avenue.

“I was sitting in my classroom and could hear this crackling noise, and I thought it was rain,” 5th-grade teacher Jamie Goss said outside the Christian school. “But then I looked up and there were blue skies and then I saw the smoke.

“It’s too close for comfort.”

The first fire was reported around 1:45 p.m. and located in a gulch near Paia School and across from Holy Rosary Church. Firefighters from Paia, Makawao and Kahului, as well as the Maui Fire Department’s Air One helicopter contained 75 percent of the 3- to 5-acre fire as of about 3 p.m., Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga said.

Baldwin Avenue was closed above the church and below Paia Gym and reopened around 5 p.m., police said.

The second fire in a nearby gulch was reported around 3 p.m. It involved about 5 acres of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. land. Fire operations were turned over to HC&S around 4:15 p.m. No damage or injuries were reported, Mainaga said.

Goss said the smoke was “totally thick and gray,” and that she had her students immediately shut classroom windows.

“You could just see a huge dark billowing cloud of smoke,” she said.

The Christian school of 173 students, preschool to 11th grade, was scheduled to end at 2:15 p.m., but students were released early if their parents were available. Faculty members cared for students, while email, phone calls, Facebook posts and other notifications were sent to parents to immediately pick up their children.

Principal Carolyn Moore said faculty members knew the fire was unscheduled because they never occur during school hours.

“It’s hard to know what’s happening when you have something like this because you don’t know which way (the fire) is going to go,” Moore said.

After-school tutoring and a religious youth group at the school were canceled because of the fire and smoke.

“We don’t want the kids breathing in that air,” said Goss, who helps coordinate the youth group.

Attempts to reach Paia School were unsuccessful.

Parents circled in and out of the Christian school, with many saying they didn’t know about the fire until they received word from the school.

Haiku resident Jack Hoyle picked up his two sons, Nathaniel, 9, and Nico, 5, and said he could see the smoke from his workplace in Central Maui.

“It didn’t sound like a dramatic emergency, but (the school) wanted to get everyone out and safe,” Hoyle said.

Nichole Lorico-Minchin of Makawao said she was a little worried about her daughter, Helia, 3, who attends the school, and that she had to drive around the road closure to get to the school from Upcountry.

“The smoke was so thick you couldn’t see anything,” Lorico-Minchin said. “But I grew up here so I know what the canes are all about and I spoke with the teacher and she said the school was all right.”

Originally from San Diego, Goss said she is accustomed to wildfires.

“One time, we had an extra week of vacation as kids during Thanksgiving break because of fires,” she said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at