Recovery

Hawaii Co-op Suffers Fire Damage

By Derrill Holly | ECT Staff Writer Published: August 22nd, 2012

Hawaii’s only electric cooperative used every available line technician to rebuild portions of its distribution system, where firefighters recently battled raging brushfires in the rugged terrain of Kaua’i Island.

A Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative crew works to replace a pole and restring conductor burned by wildfires. (Photo By: Shelley Paik/KIUC)

A Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative crew works to replace a pole and restring conductor burned by wildfires. (Photo By: Shelley Paik/KIUC)

“This is one of the most damaging wildfires to Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative’s infrastructure in recent memory,” said Mike Yamane, the Lihue-based cooperative’s chief of operations. “We’ve lost 11 poles, and our radio equipment and fiber optic cables have also been damaged.”

The fire burned about 3,000 acres along inland ridges above the community of Kokee.

“We shut down the Kokee line Aug. 18, when it became clear the brushfire was moving through the area,” said Yamane. About 130 members were without power for three days, although co-op crews were able to restore power to a water pumping station that serves Waimea Town, on the west side of Kaua’i Island.

All of the co-op’s line crews were moved into the affected area, and personnel worked from dawn until nightfall to replace the burned poles and restring conductor. Getting into the area proved challenging because much of the damage is in abandoned sugar cane fields that have been overgrown since the Kekaha Mill closed 12 years ago.

“Most of it is very steep terrain,” said Robert Westerman, chief of the Kaua’i Fire Department, when questioned about firefighting tactics. “We have to let it run up to a defensible space, like a roadway, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Brushfires on mountain ridges on Kaua’i Island destroyed 11 of Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative’s poles. (Photo By: Shelley Paik/KIUC)

Brushfires on mountain ridges on Kaua’i Island destroyed 11 of Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative’s poles. (Photo By: Shelley Paik/KIUC)

The blazes were fully contained Aug. 21, but one of the fires got within a mile of the old sugar mill, according to firefighting officials. About 40 personnel from various state and local agencies and the U.S. Navy, along with private contractors, battled the blazes. Three helicopters dumped water over some areas to help contain the flames.

“Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative personnel won’t be able to estimate the cost of repairs until we can complete a full assessment of our damages,” said Shelley Paik, a public affairs specialist with the co-op. “Crews toiled through ash, dust and heat to finish power restoration work Aug. 21, a day earlier than we originally estimated.”

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