By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A structure fire that destroyed an unoccupied, single-story home snarled traffic into and out of Keaukaha on Thursday morning.
No one was in the building at the time of the fire, firefighters said, but the house was a complete loss.
Fire Inspector Gantry Andrade said he had not yet determined what started the fire in the 876-square-foot building, located at 1922 Kalanianaole Ave., adding that “at this time this is not considered a crime scene. … There’s no suspicion of arson at this point.”
Police officers first noticed the smoke from a fire during a routine patrol of the area at around 8:15 a.m, he said.
“They came to my door and asked me if I was burning rubbish,” said Candace Bautista, who lives next door to the building. “I said no, but I could smell the smoke. … They came back shortly after that and told my husband and I we had to evacuate. … We couldn’t take our three dogs, our parrot or our parakeet with us.”
Fire trucks lined the street as police held back traffic coming into and leaving the area. They also prevented motorists from taking an alternate route along Nene Street. Traffic was held back all the way to Richardson Beach Park. The roadway wasn’t reopened until 12:30 p.m.
Neighbors stood out front of the Hale Moana condo building discussing the fire and watching firefighters trudging back and forth through mud and into the undergrowth to access the old wooden building, which was tucked away under a canopy of trees, one of which continued to smolder hours after the blaze was extinguished.
Andrade said there appeared to be signs that someone had been coming and going from the house, with trails worn down the overgrown, 225-foot driveway and to the side of the house. But, he said, the house was insured, had electric and water service, and the owner of the property, who arrived as the fire was being put out, told him that she had not rented it out to anyone.
“It’s not abandoned. It’s occupiable,” he said. “It just isn’t occupied.”
The three-bedroom/one-bathroom ranch-style home was built in 1947 and valued at $38,000, according to the Hawaii County Real Property Tax Office.
Firefighters had the blaze extinguished within about 25 or 30 minutes, Andrade said.
Accessing the fire from the street was difficult, due to the long driveway which was blocked by a downed tree, according to a fire department press release.
While firefighters fought the flames, vehicles were not allowed to pass by on Kalanianaole, causing traffic to back up. Only after the blaze was extinguished were vehicles allowed to leave the area, but vehicles headed into the area from the Hilo direction were told to turn around.
“It was determined that the fire would be under control within a reasonable time, so the emergency evacuation route (through the Hilo International Airport property) was not necessary,” said Sgt. Paul Fukuda with the Hawaii County Police Department. “Unless somebody needed to get in for an emergency, they were kept out until the whole thing was over, which took about an hour and a half.”
Fukuda added that the final decision of whether to open up the evacuation route gates must be made by Civil Defense.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.