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Quick spreading fire burns Maui Meadows home, lot

House destroyed in Maui Meadows

A firefighter hoses down the remains of a home in Maui Meadows that burned down late Monday afternoon. The fire also burned about 3,000 to 4,000 square feet of brush in a nearby vacant lot, said Fire Services Chief Ed Taomoto. No injuries were reported, and no one was home at the time. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

MAUI MEADOWS – A fire that witnesses said spread quickly and set off a series of small explosions burned down a home in Maui Meadows and scorched a nearby vacant lot Monday afternoon, fire officials said.

A battalion chief, seven companies, two water tankers and 30 firefighters responded to the blaze and were able to save the cottage on the site, Fire Services Chief Ed Taomoto said. No injuries were reported, and no one was home at the time.

“We had to put (the cottage) out a couple of times along the edges,” Wailea Fire Capt. David Fenton said at the scene. “That’s where we positioned ourselves so we could protect that. . . . There was nothing we could do to save the house.”

At 4:28 p.m., crews received a call about a fire on Keha Street, Taomoto said. Fenton, who was the first on scene, said his crew could already see a dark column of smoke rising as they rushed to respond. When they arrived at 4:34 p.m., the first and second floors were already engulfed in flames, and the fire surrounded the home on all four sides. Fenton said the crew was informed en route that no one was in the structure.

“We attacked defensively from all sides, knowing there could be no life in there,” Fenton said. “So we just shot from all sides and tried to surround the building, get companies on all sides working.

This photo of a house fire in Maui Meadows was taken at about 4:25 p.m. Monday. The fast moving fire engulfed the pole house on Keha Drive. KEVIN SARICH photo

“The second floor roof fell quick,” he added. “I don’t think we were on the scene 10 minutes before the roof fell.”

The fire also caught some brush and “raced up the hill to the vacant lot above,” Taomoto said. No structures were on the lot, but the fire scorched about 3,000 to 4,000 square feet of brush.

Witnesses said the fire happened quickly. They reported hearing a series of explosions as the house collapsed.

“I think it caught everybody by surprise,” said Kevin Sarich, who lives on the lower side of Keha Drive. “Everybody was out on the street. . . . It was fast. It went from apparently nothing.”

Barbara and Dan Saldivar saw the smoke from their home on Mililani Place and rode up the street on their motorcycle to see what was going on.

Crews spray charred beams of the home that burned down in Maui Meadows on Monday afternoon. Witnesses said the fire quickly engulfed and collapsed the home. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

“It was just a ball of red flames,” Barbara Saldivar said. “Then it just collapsed straight down.”

The couple heard a series of explosions as the fire engulfed the home.

“I thought it was bullets going off,” Dan Saldivar said.

Maria Moreno rents a studio on Kaapuni Place, just up the road from the home. She said she smelled the smoke and called 911. As soon as she saw flames, she and a friend quickly began hosing down her studio and her landlords’ home.

“I had no clue with the wind how fast it was going to move,” Moreno said. “So I just prepared to evacuate.”

Moreno said she couldn’t see the structure but could feel the heat and see embers in the air.

“You could just hear crash, crash, crumbling and crackling,” Moreno recalled. “It went down fast.”

Derry Kauffman’s home on Kaapuni Street is about 100 feet away from the Keha Street home.

“It went up like instantaneous,” Kauffman said. “There were several explosions. I don’t know if the windows were blowing out, but it completely fell in.”

Kauffman’s friends used to own the house. He said it was built on poles and that the home had a vaulted ceiling about 20 feet high.

Fenton said this particular fire was a challenge because of the elevation. He and Battalion Chief Wayne Cambra estimated that firefighters had to unravel about 250 to 300 feet of hose from the bottom of the hill up the steep driveway leading to the cottage and the home.

Taomoto said that “popping type explosions are common sounds from many structure fires,” and that the sounds witnesses heard could have been caused by aerosol cans “or anything that has contained pressure that will fail and explode when subjected to heat and expansion.”

He added that officials were still calculating damage estimates and investigating the cause of the fire. The main house was destroyed, and there was minor damage to the cottage.

At 9:43 p.m. Monday, Taomoto said firefighters were in mop-up mode.

Crews from Wailea, Kihei, Kahului and Wailuku responded, including a company of off-duty firefighters who were called in to staff a relief and auxiliary engine, Taomoto said.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.