Longtime West Maui resident Joe Pluta said the fires in Olowalu and surrounding areas are unavoidable, and it’s not a question of whether it’s going to happen, but “How many times is this going to happen?”
“It happens all the time. It’s notorious. It’s something everyone would dread. Pluta said Friday, noting large fires in the past, including in 2018 and 2020, that burned homes, structures and thousands of acres. “Is it going to happen tonight? Or tomorrow? What are you going to do?”
Pluta and the organizations he leads, the West Maui Improvement Foundation and the West Maui Taxpayers Association, have embarked on an approximately $2 million campaign to build a fire substation in Olowalu.
Currently, Olowalu, Launiupoko and Ukumehame are all outside a 5-mile radius of the Lahaina Fire Station and are therefore at higher risk for fire and life safety, the organizations said.
With private monetary assistance, in turn, the county will initiate land use approvals. The ultimate goal is to have ownership of the property transferred to the county, according to a press release from the foundation.
“That’s what we did in Napili. We have proven ourselves.” the West Maui Improvement Foundation added in its press release.
About 20 years ago, the foundation raised about $4 million for the Napili Fire Station, which was donated to the county, Pluta said.
Around this time, Pluta, along with the late Maui architect Uwe Schulz and CPA Ron Kawahara, took out second mortgages on their homes to secure financing for a construction loan.
The late Colin Cameron, chairman and chairman of Maui Land and Pineapple Co., donated the land for the Napili resort, Pluta said.
The public, seeing the idea of a privately funded Napili station, was not “everything speaks history,” supported the idea and made donations, Pluta said.
“We just need everyone to get excited about it,” Pluta spoke about the Olowalu Fire Station campaign. “The entire community of West Maui is so important economically to Maui County. We can no longer have a devastating fire.
The Maui County administration, including the Maui Fire Department, supports the idea. A meeting was held on June 1 with the landowner, mayor, and county planning, budget, and fire officials, who agreed to the collaboration.
“We definitely support the idea of WMIF and would love to see them succeed in bringing this project to fruition,” Deputy Fire Chief Gavin Fujioka said Thursday.
“Having a fire station in Olowalu will allow MFD to have a faster response to any emergency in that general area. It is somewhat in the middle of the two bordering neighborhoods and this area is very popular with local residents and tourists. Fujioka said.
He added that MFD was initially looking to have two staff members at the station, but more could be added in the future.
Getting a new fire truck for the station could take more than two years, but a rescue truck could be used in the meantime, Fujioka added.
Pluta said they cleared Fire Chief Brad Ventura to choose the site, which is about 200 yards mauka from the road at the improved Honoapiilani Highway intersection near Mile 14.5 and just mauka from Camp Olowalu.
The 2-acre plot is owned by Olowalu Homes Inc., of which Pluta said developer Peter Martin is a major partner. Pluta added that if funds are raised for the station, Olowalu Homes will donate the land.
In an email on Friday, Martin said he was working with Pluta and had signed an agreement to donate land for the Olowalu station.
While Martin “has so much bad press” Pluta said people shouldn’t stray away from the campaign because the station was the organizations idea and the land that was chosen was precisely Martin’s.
Pluta said home and property owners in the area will benefit as first responders will be nearby and provide not only fire protection but also medical emergency assistance.
It could also mean residents could see lower insurance rates, Pluta explained, pointing out that insurance rates are higher when homes are farther from a fire station, and sometimes fire insurance won’t cover a house too far away.
In addition, project donors could benefit from tax deductions.
“It’s the best investment you can make, period,” said Pluta.
The Lahaina Fire Station is 9 miles away and a 15-minute drive from the Olowalu General Store, according to Google Maps. The Wailuku Fire Station is 25 km away and a 25 minute drive from the store.
Pluta said the organizations are saving on construction costs for the station because it will be a modular design, with the larger components being built on the mainland and shipped and assembled there.
That’s why only about $2 million will be needed, he said. Napili Station was a brick-and-mortar building that cost $4 million at the time, but would likely be much more expensive now, Pluta said.
For Olowalu substation, the construction process is fast as it could take about 45 days for parts to be built and shipped and about another 75 days for on-site assembly.
Donations can be made by check payable to the West Maui Improvement Foundation, with the fire station listed in the memo, and mailed to WMIF, PO Box 10338, Lahaina, HI 96761.
Donations can also be made online via https://linktr.ee/wmif.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected]