KIHEI - Hundreds of Kihei tourists and residents were screaming as 10-foot-high flames engulfed an unoccupied condominium unit on Thursday night.
"I was about 500 yards away, but I could hear everybody screaming, 'Fire! Fire! Fire!' " said Peter Yaksic, Hale Kamaole building manager, a couple hours after the fire. "I sprinted to the building and was beating on doors, yelling at people to get out.
"I'm not sure what time it started . . . I don't even know what time it is now, to tell you the truth."
Nancy Hevenor of Colorado took this photo of Hale Kamaole at about 9:15 p.m. Thursday. She was staying at the Kamaole Sands.
NANCY HEVENOR photo
Around 9 p.m., firefighters responded to a call of a structure fire on the third story of the building, according to Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga.
By that time, the fire in unit No. 311 "was blazing," said Kihei resident Jasen Hartford.
Hartford, who was watching television in a unit on the mauka side of the fire, said he could hear people screaming and saw from his back door the glow of fire from the unit.
He ran to the pool and courtyard area where a handful of people were already standing, and saw about 10-foot flames curling out of the balcony and over the roof.
"It was extremely hot," he said, pointing to a spot near the pool in the courtyard. "I was about 30 feet away from the flames and could feel the heat."
He reported hearing loud popping noises coming from the unit.
"I could hear explosions," he said. "It sounded like pops, followed by glass shattering, and it was bursting out towards the courtyard."
When firefighters arrived on the scene and hosed down the unit, he said he could see chunks of drywall from the third-floor unit falling apart.
"The pieces looked a little bigger than a basketball," he said.
Witnesses said tenants on both sides and below the unit were sprinting out of their units.
Len Slade, who was staying in the unit two stories down from the fire, ran out of the building.
"I was watching television, when my neighbor next door came over and yelled, 'Len, there's a fire! Get out!' " said the Vancouver, British Columbia, resident. "I grabbed some stuff, threw it in a suitcase and got the heck out."
"When I looked up, there was a big barbecue."
Fellow Canadian visitor Tom Treavor said that there was a couple staying in unit 311, but they were not inside the room.
Sitting with a group of about 10 other people adjacent to the third-story unit, he said that the couple joined their party about 15 minutes before the fire started.
"We were playing a game, until one person from our group saw smoke coming from one of the rooms," he said. "The fire started within seconds."
Treavor said the man in unit 311 immediately ran toward the building, but, he was not sure if he went inside the room.
Treavor said he later found the man and woman, and they appeared to be uninjured.
About 80 people evacuated the 40-unit structure, with no reported injuries, according to fire and county officials.
The fire, which was 50 percent contained by 10 p.m., was extinguished by 2:40 a.m., Mainaga said.
Firefighters from Wailea, Kihei, Wailuku and Kahului were the initial responders to the fire, while companies from Lahaina and Makawao assisted.
The third-story unit was destroyed, with surrounding units sustaining water, fire and smoke damage.
The destroyed unit, along with eight other surrounding units, were closed, and residents were housed throughout the complex.
Slade was placed in a neighboring building on the mauka side of the destroyed unit, and said firefighters escorted him back to his room so he could retrieve his belongings.
"Everything got washed out," he said, showing a garbage bag of toiletries and other personal items Friday morning.
Observing from the courtyard, his ground-floor unit appeared to have extensive water damage to the ceiling. The floor was soaked.
He was able to save some of his electrical devices such as his iPhone, iPad and laptop, but he lost his prescription drugs and blood-thinning medication, he said.
On Friday morning, Slade said that he had booked a flight back to Canada, saying it would be too difficult to get his prescriptions on the island.
"I played some good golf and ate some good food, but figured it was a sign I should probably go home," he said. "But the police and fire guys did a wonderful job and the staff here has been outstanding."
After investigating the fire Friday morning, the fire's cause was "undetermined," pending further information, Mainaga said.
Estimated structural damage was $1.5 million, with lost contents an additional $120,000.
Yaksic said that structural damage should be covered by the Hale Kamaole Homeowners Association, but contents within damaged units are insured by individual owners.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.