KAHANA - An early-morning fire destroyed a Kahana gym and sports club on Monday that had celebrated its 12th anniversary on Saturday.
The Maui Muscle Sports Club Kahana lost its gym and two-story building. Gym employees discovered the fire around 6 a.m., with witnesses reporting smoke and flames coming from a club sauna. Fire officials said the blaze's cause remained undetermined.
Also destroyed were several other businesses that occupied the commercial building fronting the Valley Isle Resort at 4327 Lower Honoapiilani Highway near the Kahana McDonald's restaurant.
Visitor Scott Mielcarek captured this photo of a firefighter dousing Monday’s blaze from a ladder. A fire destroyed a commercial building fronting the Valley Isle Resort in Kahana.
SCOTT MIELCAREK photo
Although the fire did not spread to the nearby resort, its occupants were evacuated. There were no reports of injuries.
"This is sad," said fitness instructor Emily Shaw as she, fellow workers and gym members watched firefighters douse the blaze. "All of our jobs (are gone). It's more than just the little gym. . . . It's our little ohana, our little family for some."
Shaw wasn't at the gym at the time of the fire, but was called by another worker to say her class on Monday had been canceled.
Gym front desk attendant Katrina Yarborough was on duty when she smelled smoke.
She went to the upstairs portion of the gym and saw smoke coming from the sauna in the men's locker room.
"I kind of thought it was no big deal. Just turn it off," she recalled. Then, "I saw the flames and thought it was (the) real deal."
Yarborough, fellow worker Sandy Richardson and a gym member were able to evacuate the gym. There were seven people in the gym at the time, including the workers, Richardson said.
Dale Smith, an owner of Maui Muscle Sports Club Kahana LLC, watched somberly from across the street as fire crews doused the fire in his building.
"Fire chief told me it was total," Smith said.
He said he was going to take things "day by day."
Smith added that Saturday marked the 12th anniversary of the gym's opening.
He commended his staff for being able to evacuate everyone quickly and safely.
"Everyone did a really good job," Smith added.
Fire officials said nine fire apparatuses and 60 fire personnel responded to the scene. The building housed a gym, sauna, kitchen and offices.
The American Red Cross also responded.
Fire crews had the blaze under control at 1 p.m. and resort guests and residents were allowed back into their units at 3 p.m. through the building's beach access area only. Power was restored to the building Monday afternoon, but elevator service was still out around 3:45 p.m., fire officials said.
The fire was declared extinguished at 4:40 p.m. Damage was estimated at $900,000 to the structure and $500,000 to its contents, said Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga.
Fire officials did not have an official total of how many people were evacuated, but by midmorning at least 60 people including occupants and onlookers watched as crews fought the fire. Police closed a portion of Lower Honoapiilani Highway from Hoohui Road to the entrance of the resort.
Nearly three hours after the fire first started, part-time Maui residents Vijay and Kay Madnani from San Jose, Calif., watched firefighters working to put out the fire.
Vijay Madnani stood on the roadside holding his small roll-away suitcase that held his two laptop computers.
"I was in bed," Kay Madnani recalled. "I could smell something. I thought it was a garbage truck."
But then Vijay, who was awake, ran into the bedroom and said there was fire and smoke.
"It spread so fast," Kay Madnani said.
Vijay Madnani said that when he and his wife went downstairs from their 12th-floor penthouse at the Valley Isle Resort and reached the bottom floor, he could see flames towering about 20 feet over the neighboring commercial building.
Also evacuating with a few possessions in a brown grocery bag were Bob and Jean Tarbert, from Palm Springs, Calif. They said they have been visiting Maui for the last 15 years.
"I just took my medicine and my wallet," said Bob Tarbert, who suffers from asthma.
"I was scared. I could not see the ocean," said Jean Tarbert who added the smoke was so thick it blocked everything in sight.
"You thank God everyone's OK," she said. "Those flames were shooting up to the sky."
Scott and Debbie Mielcarek, who were staying in the Sands of Kahana building next door to the Valley Isle Resort, said they were not evacuated but the smoke was so bad in their unit that they came out to get fresh air.
Debbie Mielcarek said she at first thought someone was cleaning a barbecue before finding out about the fire next door.
Scott Mielcarek said at one point, the fire was "kind of eerie" because smoke was coming out of a portion of the top of the building that resembles a funnel or a volcano.
He also commended the firefighters.
"It looked like they fire guys did a good job," he said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.