Firefighters responded to an unscheduled sugar cane fire Sunday afternoon that witnesses said was "raging" along Hana Highway across from Mama's Fish House Restaurant in Paia.
"I was at Hookipa and was going to Paia to see some friends when I saw the fire starting up the road," said Haiku resident Tara Lee Murphy, who was driving westbound on the highway. "The fire was just coming straight up the highway, it was coming really close to the road. . . . I didn't want to drive through. It was scary."
Fire crews from Kahului, Paia and Makawao, along with the Air One helicopter, responded to the fire with the first crews arriving at 12:49 p.m. near Holomua Road, Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga said. He said that the fire was under control about an hour later and extinguished at 3:15 p.m.
No injuries were reported.
Hana Highway, between Holomua Road and Kaimao Street, was closed for about one hour due to heavy smoke conditions, he said.
"I just watched it crawl across," Murphy said of the approximately 26-acre cane fire. "It engulfed the whole sugar cane field, all the way down to Mama's Fish House."
Firefighters responded to an unscheduled sugar cane fire Sunday afternoon at Holomua Road and Hana Highway. The approximately 26-acre fire was extinguished after about 2¢ hours and losses were estimated at $100,000. No injuries were reported.
DAVE GOMEZ photo
A crew using the Maui Fire Department’s Air One helicopter responded to an unscheduled sugar cane fire Sunday afternoon at Holomua Road and Hana Highway.
DAVE GOMEZ photo
David Baker, floor manager at the Paia restaurant, said that workers started to see and smell smoke around 12:30 p.m. One of the executive chefs ran out toward the highway to see from where the smoke was coming.
"He said it's getting closer and closer, so we decided to evacuate the building," Baker said. "We had to evacuate all the guests down to the beach."
Fellow Mama's manager Jackie Greene also went out to the road and was standing about 20 yards away from the fire, where she could "definitely feel the heat."
"The wind was really blowing too, and for a period of time, smoke was blowing right into the restaurant, as well as the ash," she said. "We were evacuated and couldn't open for the rest of lunch."
Although the fire was burning across the street from the restaurant and parallel to the highway, Greene said it was only about 100 feet away. She was worried that it might "jump the street" through a nearby maintenance building.
"It singed the coconut trees on the mauka side of our property," Baker said. "It was really crackling and blazing away. . . . I've experienced a cane fire that got pretty close before but nothing this close."
Greene said that the restaurant was holding a Father's Day lunch special and was completely booked with 365 reservations.
"We had to think of the safety," she said. "A lot of local families came to celebrate Father's Day here and weren't able to completely enjoy their lunch, but they certainly understood the situation."
The restaurant had 550 reservations for Sunday night, and Greene said that the restaurant would be ready to service its customers.
"We got the whole staff stripping the restaurant down, getting everything cleaned, vacuumed and washed to get ready to take care of all the dads tonight," she said. "Luckily, we had a lot of staff so we had a lot of hands to clean up."
Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. reported losses of $100,000 from the fire, Mainaga said.
He said the cause of the fire is undetermined.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.
Video courtesy of David Gomez