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Fast-moving fire burns 1,500 acres in Puunene

Maui Humane Society evacuates animals to Maui High campus

The Maui Fire Department’s Air One helicopter fills a bucket from a pumpkin portable water tank set up on Maui Veterans Highway near the Central Maui baseyard Sunday afternoon. Police closed the highway and evacuated the baseyard and Maui Humane Society, as firefighters battled a brush fire that started near the old Puunene School and Puunene Post Office. LENIE LAWRENCE photo

A fast-moving fire that started in Puunene had burned an estimated 1,500 acres and was about 85 percent contained Sunday evening, county officials said.

Three helicopters and multiple Maui Fire Department crews responded to the blaze that started in strong winds at about 1 p.m. Sunday near the old Puunene School and Puunene Post Office.

There were reports of damage to Hawaiian Telcom lines due to fire and some damage to the Central Maui Baseyard, although the extent of damage wasn’t known Sunday evening, said Maui County spokesman Chris Sugidono.

Soon after the fire started, the Central Maui Baseyard, Maui Humane Society and Maui Army National Guard Pvt 1st Class Anthony T. Kahoohanohano Armory were evacuated. Maui Veterans Highway was closed between Hansen and North Kihei roads before being reopened at 5:50 p.m.

“Our Fire Department did a remarkable job to contain this fast-moving fire and limiting its spread,” Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said in a news release. “We want to mahalo our firefighters, police officers and all our partners for keeping our community safe and protected.”

Smoke billows from brush near the old Puunene School on Sunday afternoon. LENIE LAWRENCE photo

As the fire moved toward the baseyard early Sunday afternoon, firefighters set up an inflatable water pumpkin on Maui Veterans Highway for the Fire Department’s Air One helicopter to draw from to douse water on the fire.

Bulldozers and other heavy equipment were dispatched to cut firebreaks.

At the Maui Humane Society, staff were on alert after hearing that the baseyard had been evacuated, said Jenny Miller, director of development and marketing. Soon after that, the Maui Police Department called to recommend that the shelter also be evacuated, she said.

Employees had gone through a similar evacuation of animals that took about 45 minutes when a fire neared the shelter July 11, 2019, Miller said.

On Sunday, “we didn’t have as much notice, and we had to move very quickly,” she said.

Maui Humane Society animal care attendant Tiffaney Davis checks on cats that were among animals evacuated to Maui High School after a brush fire Sunday afternoon. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

The 17 dogs, two rabbits, one guinea pig, 48 cats and Freddie the tortoise were evacuated within 25 minutes to arrive at Maui High School by about 2:30 p.m., Miller said.

When she drove to the shelter to make one last check, “it was smoky” and ash was falling, Miller said.

She said there were flames across the street from the shelter on the Central Maui Baseyard side of the highway.

Six huge semitrucks, five or six firetrucks and “lots of police” were on the highway, Miller said. There were no other cars on the road.

At Maui High, 30 humane society staff and 10 volunteers helped set up kennels under trees in the same location used for the evacuation last year.

Emily Drose, Maui Humane Society community cat coordinator, bottle feeds a kitten that was among shelter animals evacuated to Maui High School on Sunday afternoon. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

By late afternoon, the shelter had received more than enough donations of pet food and other supplies, Miller said.

Maui Humane Society CEO Steve MacKinnon said the agency was reaching out to foster families to take some of the cats while waiting for an update on the fire Sunday afternoon.

“Even when they say we can return, we still have to clean up,” he said.

Staff and animals were returning to the shelter Sunday night.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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