Olowalu burning

Brush fire claims at least 200 acres; residents, Olowalu General Store had to be evacuated

A helicopter pilot drops a load of water on a section of a brush fire approaching Olowalu homes and farms Friday. It burned about 200 acres and forced evacuations but there was no damage or injuries reported. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A week after West Maui was hit with massive brush fires that scorched more than 2,000 acres, another fire broke out in Olowalu Friday morning, forcing the evacuation of businesses and residents.

An estimated 200 acres burned. The blaze was reported around 10 a.m. Friday north of Olowalu General Store, said Fire Services Chief Rylan Yatsushiro. The fire was considered 90 percent contained around 5:15 p.m. Friday.

There were no reports of damage or injuries, and the fire’s cause remained undetermined.

Around 50 people were evacuated from about 30 homes, including residents from a subdivision on Luawai Road, Yatsushiro said.

A shelter was opened for Olowalu evacuees around 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Kahului Community Center Annex, operated by the American Red Cross. But, in about two hours, it was closed after Luawai Road was reopened and all evacuees were allowed to return home, county officials said. Luawai Road in Olowalu was closed for a portion of Friday afternoon while emergency personnel worked in the area, police said.

Charles Camera (left), who grew up in Olowalu, talks with leasehold farmer Sford Domingo as a brush fire rages on the nearby hillside Friday. Camera said fires are not uncommon in the area, nor the “pupule” winds which swirl and take the flames in surprising directions. “What’s good about this kine stuff is how the community comes together,” Camera said. “We may not know all our neighbors, but in times of need they are always there.” Domingo opened gates to allow his goats to reach his lowest pen, farthest away from the fire. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Yatsushiro said that when fire crews arrived at the Olowalu fire, they found brush burning behind the Maui Paintball field with the fire quickly spreading up the hillside and through dry brush and kiawe.

At one point, the fire threatened some farm structures on the Lahaina side of the burn area, but firefighters were able to protect the structures.

Throughout the day, 40 firefighters battled the blaze. They were assisted by water tankers and three helicopters that flew in loads of water to douse the flames.

Private companies, including Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co., West Maui Land Co. and PB Sullivan, provided tankers and equipment and assisted with battling the blaze.

Late Friday afternoon, crews were dousing hot spots and were scheduled to monitor the fire throughout the night to ensure the perimeter remained secure, Yatsushiro said.

A recently cut firebreak and a water truck driver help keep the flames away from Olowalu homes and farms Friday. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Clint Hansen, owner of Maui Paintball in Olowalu, said the fire got as close as 300 yards from the paint ball field.

“It was right there,” he said of the fire. “The fields are all good, all safe,” he said, noting there’s a big game today with 150 players.

The business was closed Friday, but it will be open today. As soon as he saw the fire, Hansen said he asked for prayers and posted his message on Facebook.

“Within like 30 seconds to a minute, the wind changed directions, and the fire went the opposite way,” he said.

Unlike the other wind-whipped fires last week, the winds on Friday were only blowing around 5 mph, Hansen said.

Olowalu residents watch as a water truck driver sprays water and a firefighting helicopter makes a circuit from the ocean with a load of seawater Friday. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

But witnesses also told The Maui News that there were “pupule winds,” or crazy winds, that also picked up.

Hansen and others helped fire crews by opening gates, providing drinks and assisting where they could.

But, he said, it was scary at times.

“I’m in flip-flops with fire burning around; it’s not fun,” he said.

Mary Ann Boyle of Olowalu General Store said via Facebook messenger Friday afternoon that everyone at the store was evacuated.

Evacuee Lorry Vierra talks to her pit bulls as they all wait to return to their Olowalu house Friday. “Somebody has to stay with them or they will run home,” she said. Vierra said she was working at home when she smelled kiawe burning. Rushing to check, she spotted fire burning near the family lands. She said shifting winds carried the fire uphill and then turned it toward the property. “It was definitely pupule winds for sure. It’s just unpredictable.” She said her husband, Sham Vierra, decided to cut a firebreak around the home they are renovating last week after another big brush fire scorched Lahaina. It appeared the firebreak did its job as the fire was stopped at the break. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

She was just recovering from the power outage from last week’s fires, after the store finally got the parts it needed from Oahu to repair a compressor for its walk-in freezer. The compressor blew up when the power went back on last week following the brush fires.

“Finally had it up and running, and we were just getting deliveries to replenish all the meats, ice cream and perishables that we lost because of the Lahaina fire. Now the power is out again,” she wrote as the firefighters continued to battle the blaze early Friday afternoon.

Around three hours after Boyle evacuated, she said she got a call that the power was back on at the store.

Friday’s fire occurred one week after three brush fires burned more than 2,000 acres from Maalaea to Kaanapali and damaged or destroyed 21 structures. Last week’s fires and strong winds downed power lines and left Lahaina without electricity for an extended time.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com. Staff Writer Matthew Thayer also contributed to this report.

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