Fanning the flames in Kalaupapa

I awoke to the jarring blare of the settlement alarm siren. I got out of bed saying to myself, “Oh no! Not a tsunami!” Then as I quickly got into some clothing and shoes, I thought, if this is not a tsunami, it is one hell of an hour to get us out of bed (it was about 2 a.m. or shortly thereafter) for a tsunami drill. Then I climbed into my paddy wagon and started out for the evacuation area. As I drove up the hill, however, I realized that the large glow I had seen from my bedroom window was not a collection of vehicle lights but rather it was the glow from a huge fire. The state kitchen and cafeteria were engulfed in flames.

The scene was a frenzy of activity as the workers, both state and National Park, battled the fierce inferno while many sharp explosions filled the air. Luckily, whatever wind there was, was blowing from the east as usual, pushing the flames straight ahead toward the west rather than at the two houses on either side. 

Workers like Sol (King Solomon), Too Tall Andrew, Administrator Ken, Lionel the Lion Hearted and Eric the Shark Tamer were seen running back and forth getting the water hoses on the fire. Then they were joined by some of the young lady workers led by Meilee, Shantell, and Tiare who found some garden hoses and joined in the battle at the risk of their health if not their lives. They get my vote for firefighters of the year.

I watched the action from the fringe of the activity while trying not to get in the way of the firefighters. On several occasions I was told by the young ladies, “Stay out of the smoke, Father!” I think they really enjoyed bossing me around! Finally I got to help by training the lights of my paddy wagon in the direction of the action. 

Meantime Zianna was bringing drinks to the magnificent firefighters. She said it was just water but it may have been stronger! It was so sad to watch this venerable old building being consumed without a hope of being saved. While it had served meals for the patients and state workers for so many years, it had also served us with Thanksgiving and Christmas banquets each year.

By 4:30 a.m., as the workers continued to spray water, all that remained of this proud old building was one black mass of ashes and crumpled metal. The exhausted workers had done their job and safety was now restored to the neighborhood. Most important of all nobody was hurt or injured. The fire that had consumed our kitchen had brought out the very best in our residents. It had fanned the flames of cooperation and fighting spirit in our small Kalaupapa community.

Anchor columnist Father Killilea is pastor of St. Francis Parish in Kalaupapa, Hawaii. 


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