Close call: Fire forces evacuations, road closures in Kona

  • The kitchen crew at Umekes Fish Market Bar and Grill throws up the shaka while preparing food for some 30 firefighters keeping tabs on the brush fire overnight. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • A firefighter enters a Kona Hillcrest subdivision property to keep Wednesday's fire from spreading to structures. Courtesy Photo/Special to West Hawaii Today

  • A firefighter keeps Wednesday's brush fire from reaching homes in the Kona Hillcrest subdivision. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • A brushfire approaches Queen Kaahumanu Highway Wednesday morning. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Hawaii Fire Department Chopper 2 makes a water drop Wednesday on a brush fire started next to Pottery Terrace. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A brushfire approaches Queen Kaahumanu Highway Wednesday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Firefighters assess Wednesday’s brushfire that jumped Queen Kaahumanu Highway. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A firefighter sprays water on a brushfire Wednesday on Queen Kaahumanu Highway. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Smoke from a brushfire Wednesday closes Queen Kaahumanu Hwy. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A brush fire that ignited Wednesday next to Pottery Terrace quickly spread and jumped Queen Kaahumanu Highway near Hualalai Road. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A water tanker sprays down an area off Queen Kaahumanu Hwy. Wednesday as a brushfire quickly spread and jumped the road. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A dozer gets ready to cut a fire break off Queen Kaahumanu Hwy. as Wednesday’s fire jumps the highway. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Residents of Hillcrest and Aloha Kona subdivisions as well as businesses in Pottery Terrace in Kailua-Kona were evacuated Wednesday as a fast-moving brush fire approached homes and structures.

The order to evacuate dozens of homes and businesses came about 12:50 p.m. as the fire, which broke out shortly before noon in vacant land south of Onioni Street between Kuakini Highway and Queen Kaahumanu Highway, raged. Black smoke was visible from the fire across Kona as fire and police personnel went door-to-door in the affected areas to get people out safety.

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An emergency shelter operated by the Red Cross opened at Kekuaokalani Gym for those displaced, however, no one came to the site. It was closed after residents were allowed back in their homes around 4 p.m. when fire personnel said the fire was contained to a point that it was no longer a threat.

Innovations Public Charter School also evacuated students as a precautionary measure.

As of press-time, the fire was about 50% contained an estimated at about 40 acres. The burn area stretched mauka from Kuakini Highway, south of Pottery Terrace, and across Queen Kaahumanu Highway to Hualalai Road.

No structures were lost, though flames came close to several homes in the evacuated subdivisions. Cattle also had to be moved from the area.

Queen Kaahumanu and Kuakini highways were closed for several hours while firefighters worked to douse the flames, causing traffic gridlock throughout Kona. Dozers were brought in to cut fire breaks and both Hawaii Fire Department choppers were deployed for water drops as county and volunteer firefighters battled the blaze.

All roads were open as of 4 p.m.

Fire department officials said the cause of the fire, which started in the same area of last week’s blaze in a homeless encampment, is under investigation. They would not speculate whether it was a flare up of that fire or a new event.

Fire personnel will remain on scene to douse any hotspots or flare ups.

Those personnel were treated to a good meal late Wednesday after a call to Nakoa Pabre, owner of Umekes Fish Market Bar and Grill in Kailua-Kona. Within 20 minutes, the restaurant’s staff — despite being busy serving guests at Umekes — delivered food for over 30 firefighters at the scene.

“We were slammed, but made it happen,” he said.

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