Published January 13, 2015
About 400 people who fled a raging brush fire were allowed to return to their homes along the coast of Hawaii's largest island as firefighters sought to bring the blaze under control Sunday.
No homes were damaged and no one was injured by the fires, which appeared to have been set early Sunday along several miles of coastal highway, said Duane Hosaka, staff officer for Hawaii County Civil Defense.
Although the danger to seaside homes in the Puako community had passed, three fires continued to burn out of control Sunday night over more than 2,000 acres of land, said Hawaii County Fire Department Battalion Chief Jerry Lum.
Nine fires were set in dry grasses within minutes of one another by one or more motorists, Lum said.
"Just because of the nature of it and the amount of fires starting at the same time, it looks suspicious," Lum said. "But right now, we have no evidence."
Puako resident Bill Pollman said he found his home covered in smoke Sunday after spending time with his sister in California, who had needed to evacuate her house because of fires there.
"This was just amazing," Pollman said. "I was really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight."
Two shelters were opened at a school and community center, although one of them was closed because no one was using it, Hosaka said.
"During the day we get hardly anyone who needs shelter. People just don't want to go too far from their homes," said Tom Kaneo, who worked with the American Red Cross at the shelter at Waikoloa Elementary School.
Several parks were closed, including Hapuna Beach, Wailea Bay and Spencer Beach Park. Campers staying there had to be evacuated, although no count was available.
Three of the original nine fires couldn't be contained after more than 15 hours of firefighting efforts.
"The fire is knocked down, but not contained or controlled," Lum said. "It's still actively burning."