KULA - At least three homes were damaged and 6 acres of "heavy timber" were scorched Monday afternoon in a fire fanned by periodic "crazy winds" in Kula.
Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga said the three threatened structures were single-family homes, with one home sustaining roof damage and unknown minor damage to other structures.
Residents on the upper part of Hapapa Road were evacuated as the blaze closed in on their residences, Mainaga said. By 6 p.m., with the fire 60 percent contained, residents were allowed to return to their homes, Mainaga said.
A helicopter drops a load of water on a brush fire that claimed at least 6 acres of heavy timber and damaged at least three homes on Monday afternoon. Gusty trade winds fanned the fire, which was made more difficult for Maui firefighters to contain because of steep terrain and thick stands of eucalyptus and wattle trees.
The Maui News BRIAN PERRY photo
He said fire crews were to remain on scene throughout the night to monitor the fire.
On Monday afternoon, Mainaga said fire crews worked in steep terrain and coped with "heavy timber" and "heavy fuel" loads of eucalyptus and wattle trees.
"It's just too close for comfort," said Joy Kurosawa, whose home was safe on Hapapa Road. She came down to Kekaulike Avenue to talk with other residents as they gathered along the road, waiting for access to their homes on Cooke and Hapapa roads, where the fire raged. "You could see the flames in the trees, the eucalyptus trees."
Kurosawa added: "It's been really windy. It's crazy winds up here."
The fire was reported at 12:09 p.m., with Kurosawa saying she heard a transformer blow up before she smelled smoke and saw the fire.
"I heard a transformer blow close to my house. I didn't pay attention to that," said Kurosawa, who thought it wasn't anything major and figured a utility crew would be out to make repairs.
But she said she later smelled smoke and went up Hapapa Road to check on a friend's home because she thought it might be on fire. Her friend's home wasn't burning, but police were gathering up her friend's pets to be evacuated.
Kurosawa's neighbor's Jack Russell terrier and beagle and a bird were taken to the Kurosawa home for safekeeping.
"I'm so happy they were here," said Kiersten Anderson, whose pets were rescued.
Monday afternoon, Anderson was waiting on Kekaulike Avenue, eager to check on her home that one neighbor reported over the phone had "fire all around" it.
Anderson said that when she heard about the fire, she quickly left work at Whole Foods in Kahului to rush home.
"The police went around, and they saved my dogs and my bird. They gathered them up and took them to our lower neighbor's house," Anderson said via phone, feeling thankful for the help. "Everything else can be replaced."
Also Monday morning, a brush fire broke out in the Makawao State Forest Reserve just above the Kahakapao Reservoirs, closing down the reserve.
State Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman Deborah Ward said 4 acres amid eucalyptus and non-native shrubs were burned.
That fire was 40 percent contained Monday afternoon.
Maui County fire crews first responded to the Makawao fire at 5:35 a.m. Monday.
Mainaga said winds were gusting in the 40-mph range. On Monday afternoon, the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife took over command of the forest reserve fire. The state had 12 personnel and five vehicles trying to douse the fire, Mainaga said.
Ward said the Kula Forest Reserve and Polipoli Spring State Park also were closed Monday because of high winds. State forestry personnel were called out Sunday evening to remove fallen trees from the forest road to Polipoli Spring to allow stranded people to leave.
Ward said Monday afternoon that the closure would last until the strong winds end and it's safe for people to re-enter the area.
National Weather Service lead forecaster Derek Wroe said Monday afternoon that there was an "abnormally strong" high-pressure system over the state "that brought the strong winds that kicked in overnight and into (Monday)."
Winds were gusting in at least the 30-mph range all day Monday in Kula, but Wroe said some gusts could have been higher. At Kaupo Gap, gusts were at more than 60 mph, and at Haleakala winds were sustained at 50 mph, Wroe said.
He said winds would subside today to about the 15- to 20-mph range.
Wind advisories were issued for Maui County on Monday. There was also a high-wind warning on Monday for the Haleakala summit and the National Park above the 6,000-foot level.
The smoke and flames from the Kula fire alarmed other Kula residents on Monday, including Elen Gaion, who lives below Kekaulike Avenue on Kamehameiki Road.
Gaion said she saw ashes from the fire floating into her backyard and worried about the potential for fire damage to her boyfriend's guitar shop, which is filled with wood.
Gaion then walked up to Kekaulike Avenue near the fire to see what was going on.
"When I saw the flames, I went back home and I started packing things," she said.
She placed her computer equipment and computer into her car.
"I was a little shaky," she said via phone Monday afternoon, noting that she did not evacuate.
Gaion watched as smoke from the fire shifted downhill toward her residence, then back up the hill.
"It's going to all directions," she said. "We never have that much wind here."
In both the Makawao and Kula fires, several helicopters were used to perform water drops and various fire crews from around the island battled the fires along with county workers and other volunteers.
No injuries were reported, and the causes of both fires remained undetermined.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.