KAILUA-KONA — A Panda Express employee was taken to the hospital for burn injuries after a suspected gas explosion around lunchtime Monday at Kona Commons.
Several businesses in the Kona Commons area were evacuated because of the explosion. Employees and business patrons were waiting in the parking lot as they watched personnel from the Hawaii Fire and Hawaii Police departments respond to the scene.
Police arrived on scene at 11:38 a.m. Fire crews were already on scene. Officer Travis Bumgardner said an employee told responders she smelled gas after a rice cooker dropped on the floor in the restaurant’s kitchen area. When she bent down to pick it up, the explosion occurred, burning her hands and arms.
She was taken to Kona Community Hospital for treatment. Hawaii Fire Department Battalion Chief John Whitman said a second person was also injured and treated.
Restaurant employee Chris Casino said there were two explosions, though he didn’t see the actual explosions occur. After the first explosion happened, he grabbed a fire extinguisher and put the flames out.
When the second explosion followed, Casino said, he pulled the ansul, which is a chemical used to suppress flames. After that, he said he turned off the main gas line.
After the incident, employees along with a customer waited in the shade of a tree in the parking lot while the building was cleared.
Chalsey Daog said she was among eight customers at Panda Express at the time of the explosions.
“The wall was shaking and the ground was shaking,” Daog said as she described the explosions.
Daog saw the employee who was injured.
“You could see she was burned everywhere,” Daog said. “It hit her twice.”
Daog called 911 and instructed the injured employee to come to her so she could assist her.
“For me, my adrenaline hit,” she said. “I yelled to hit the fire alarm, get the fire extinguisher and evacuate the building.”
Daog said she took the injured employee to the bathroom to wash her burns with cold water.
After the employee was loaded into the ambulance, she said, she just wanted to make sure she was “OK.”
Kona Commons returned to normal at around noon after the gas company cleared Panda Express for leaks. Bumgardner said the restaurant would be closed for the rest of the day.