Waimea fire contained

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HILO — Police are investigating the cause of a runaway brush fire Friday afternoon in the Puukapu farm lots in Waimea which claimed one house and closed a portion of Highway 190 for several hours.

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HILO — Police are investigating the cause of a runaway brush fire Friday afternoon in the Puukapu farm lots in Waimea which claimed one house and closed a portion of Highway 190 for several hours.

Police say the fire started around noon in a dry grassy area of a residential property in the 64-700 block of Paeli Alanui Street. The fire reportedly “spread quickly” through the dry brush, damaging an uninhabited structure and a vehicle.

By about 4:30 p.m. it had spread to at least 2,000 acres, Hawaii Fire Department Chief Gantry Andrade said.

There were no injuries reported as of Friday afternoon, and the entire extent of damage remains unknown.

Around 1:40 p.m., officials closed a portion of Highway 190 from the Old Saddle Road junction to the Waimea airport, and motorists were advised to use alternative routes. By about 8 p.m., around 80 percent of the fire was reported contained and the road was reopened, fire officials said.

At least 16 fire crews, two helicopters and two bulldozers were on-scene working to suppress the fire Friday afternoon, but dry conditions coupled with heavy winds made extinguishing the blaze difficult.

Word of the fire quickly spread through social media. Several members of a Facebook group posted photos and videos, and a Facebook user said he could smell smoke from Waikoloa.

Waimea resident Agnes Carlos told the Tribune-Herald she first noticed the fire around 12:30 p.m. as she was driving into town to the Parker Ranch Center. She said she could see the smoke cloud getting bigger as she continued driving.

“We could see a lot of smoke going into the sky,” Carlos said. “And we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, what is that?’ And the closer we got to Waimea town, we could see it was really close to town.”

The fire prompted Hawaii Island Humane Society to evacuate its Waimea shelter Friday afternoon.

Director Donna Whitaker said in an email that volunteers removed 55 animals from the shelter. They were taken into the care of community members, staff and volunteers.

Whitaker said normal operations were expected to resume today.

“A brush fire threat, and the possibility of smoke inhalation, is always very serious, and protection of shelter animals is part of our training,” Whitaker said in the email, adding she “can’t say enough about how supportive the Waimea community was” and many volunteers arrived without being asked.

The Waimea-Kohala Airport closed its runway Friday as a precaution, airport manager Tim Hand said when contacted at about 2 p.m. The closure was expected to remain in place until 10 p.m. Hand said the airport also had received several phone calls.

“It’s huge,” Hand said of the fire at that time, which he described as visible flames with heavy smoke. “It’s probably stretching out about 3 miles long and a mile wide.”

Police are asking for the public’s assistance in locating witnesses to the start of the fire. The investigation is being continued by the Area II Criminal Investigation Section. They are asking anyone with information to call Detective Dominic Uyetake at 326-4646, ext. 228, or email him at Dominic.Uyetake@hawaiicounty.gov. They also can call the Police Department’s nonemergency line at 935-3311.

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Those who want to remain anonymous can call the islandwide Crime Stoppers number at 961-8300 and might be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.