By Léo Azambuja
Two dozen firefighters from four fire stations joined efforts for several hours to battle a fire that ravaged through the decaying structures of the iconic Coco Palms Resort on Fourth of July.
“According to a preliminary report, the main lobby and adjoining offices of the defunct resort were totally destroyed and the breezeway of a connecting building was badly burned,” Kaua‘i Fire Department Chief Robert Westerman said in a press release.
The fire started at approximately 11:58 a.m., according to county officials. Soon, a massive stack of black and white smoke could be seen from several places in Kapa‘a and Wailua.
Firefighters from Kaiakea, Kapa‘a and Lihu‘e fire stations got the fire under control by 2:15 p.m., county officials said. Firefighters continued to battle the fire, and were later joined by firefighters from Kalaheo Fire Station.
By 8 p.m., Engine 3 and Engine 6 returned to their stations, after fighting the Coco Palms fire for eight hours and five hours respectively, said county spokeswoman Mary Daubert, who as a young girl, played the role of a flower girl in Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawai‘i,” the most famous of several movies filmed on the property.
A team of three firefighters was recalled to tend to flare-ups that could have occurred overnight, she said. The firefighters arrived at 8 p.m. and remained on scene until a shift change at 7 a.m. Saturday.
“A total of 24 firefighters, including the recalled firefighters, a battalion chief and a Fire Department staff member responded to the fire,” Daubert said. “No injuries were reported.”
The once glorious Coco Palms — considered by many in its heyday as the finest Hawaiian-themed hotel in the state — shut down after Hurricane ‘Iniki hit Kaua‘i on Sept. 11, 1992. Since then, it has gradually become the island’s largest eyesore on Kaua‘i’s busiest corridor, the highway facing Wailua Beach.
Attempts to revive the hotel never came to fruition, despite coming really close in 2007. In 2009, arson damaged the retail building close to the highway.
Additionally, since ‘Iniki, the hotel that once hosted some of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars has been a target of vandalism and theft. In February 2013, four hand-carved, solid koa wood doors valued at $50,000 each were stolen from the property. Also, several sinks — featuring an authentic giant South Pacific clam shell — have been stolen over the years.
Just over a year ago, the state Legislature approved a $276,000 grant-in-aid for the nonprofit Hawaiian Island Land Trust to initiate a plan to ultimately purchase the property and have the community decide on its fate, likely to become a park.
However, a year ago, a group of investors formed Coco Palms Hui, LLC and announced they had pulled $50,000 demolition permits and were willing to rebuild the hotel as it was. A few months ago, the hotel-industry brand Hyatt joined the project. And more recently, the investors from Coco Palms Hui said they would try to reach out to foreign investors to come up with $125 million to rebuild the hotel.
Ironically, a Kapa‘a resident who has a weekly column on the island’s only daily newspaper, left an ominous comment on the social media network Facebook on July 1.
“Best thing we could do is get 1,000 gallons of gas and burn it down… whatever happens there needs to start from scratch,” James “Kimo” Rosen wrote in response to a posting by blogger Andy Parx that criticized the need for foreign financing to bring Coco Palms back to life.
No estimates of the damages are currently available, according to county officials. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Check out the video from Mario Perez of Mario Films Hawai‘i: