HAWI — The air smelled of smoke as drivers entered Hawi town Thursday. Just hours earlier, the community suffered a devastating loss at its town center when a historic building went up in flames.
At approximately 11:23 p.m. Wednesday, Hawaii Fire Department crews received a call about a structure fire at Kohala Village Inn &Hub. When they arrived on scene, firefighters found the front building, Hub Pub, fully involved with flames shooting through the roof.
According to fire officials, 15 guests were evacuated safely from the inn. The inn as well as other structures on the property didn’t sustain damage. The fire was contained to the Hub Pub.
Chris Scelza, director of operations for Touching the Earth, recalled specifically leaving his office at the hub at 10:38 p.m. He went to his nearby home, took a shower and by a 11 p.m. he remembered smelling something electrical.
It was an exterior fire, Scelza said Thursday standing in the parking lot of the scorched building.
“It just engulfed the whole building,” he said. “It made its way into every room.”
According to fire officials, the roof partially collapsed, but all exterior walls and most interior walls were still intact. Officials estimate $1 million in damage.
The Hub Pub is located on 6 acres off Hawi Road. Various buildings on the property, including Kohala Inn, are also situated on the parcel and make up the community-based hub.
Incorporated in 2014, the Hub and its partners provide educational, enrichment and economic development opportunities to residents of all ages, centered around food and agriculture; fine and performing arts; Kohala cultural preservation; and ecology and the environment.
Recently renovated, the pub and restaurant had reopened last month.
“For right now, we’ve lost the central station, the watering hole, the meeting place,” Scelza said. “Which is why it has to be rebuilt.”
The Hub Pub is also the office for the nonprofit organization Feed Hawaii, which manages educational programs. The Hub’s purpose is also to provide growing local food systems to feed the community.
Scelza and other leaders who operate at the Hub were at the property Thursday morning assessing the damage. He said they hope to have the inn and nonprofit programming running by the end of next week.
To get the Hub Pub up and going again, Scelza said, it will take a lot of hard work, community support and time.
“It’s a tear down, rebuild situation. It’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears down the drain,” he said. “It was a rough night, but we made it through.”
While those who work at the Hub were sad about the loss, a steady stream of community members came by the property to show their support. Those around town also felt the devastation.
Steve Vega and Rudy Chau, both lifelong Hawi residents, were sitting outside Cigar and Ukulele off Akoni Pule Highway. As they talked about how businesses in town have changed throughout the years, the Kohala Inn has remained a constant.
“That place is very special,” Vega said.
Katie Adams, a Hawi resident for 40 years, agreed with Vega.
“It’s a landmark; a place to go for people to hang out,” she said. “It’s a meeting place.”
Despite the loss of such a beloved local spot, everyone was relieved no one was injured.
“Main thing no one got hurt,” Vega said. “You can always rebuild, but you can’t rebuild a human life.”
Founders of the hub, Bennett and Delphina Dorrance posted a statement on the Kohala Village HUB Facebook page.
In their statement, they thanked the management team who responded to everything as smoothly as possible, and are still “handling the emergency with grace.”
“We of course extend our aloha to the PUB staff who helped create an amazing community gathering place and I can not even describe the shock and grief for those of us who have worked here for almost 5 years creating such a vibrant space for Kohala locals and visitors,” the statement read.
“There is sure to be a phoenix rising somehow through all of this,” the Dorrances wrote. “This is the news for now. Please feel free to share the message and we will keep you posted as events unfold.”