Paddling Back After The Blaze

Maui, Jody and TaiMana Kjeldsen

Kaua’i firefighter Maui Kjeldsen was asleep at the Koloa firehouse early on the morning of May 13 when he learned of the massive warehouse fire in Puhi.

About an hour later, Kjeldsen’s fire captain told him he needed to head to the warehouse. His station wasn’t being called to the scene, but he was.

This fire was personal. “When my captain first told me the area, I didn’t know it was the building my shop was in,” says Kjeldsen, one of the state’s top canoe paddlers as well as owner of Kia Kaha Canoes and Paddles. “When I found out I was pretty heartbroken, and I knew I had to see how bad it was.”

By the time he arrived, the fire had consumed much of the 13,000-square-foot warehouse that was home to three other businesses: Kaua’i Freight Service Inc., Hamco Glass and Beachside Roofing. Kjeldsen’s area was the smallest of the four, but the damage was just as painful to see. The production and design workshop was destroyed. Kjeldsen lost his custom Kia Kaha paddle molds along with production material, equipment and 20 completed paddles ready to be shipped to waiting customers.

“When I saw the damage, it hurt,” says Kjeldsen. “Everything was gone. A friend was also storing a small ancient koa canoe in there, and that can’t be replaced.”

Damage was estimated at $35,000. It could have been worse. Kjeldsen recently returned from a trip to his OC-1 canoe manufacturer in China, where he had delivered his Wainui and new Hiko canoe molds for production. Kjeldsen says he hopes to secure a new location for his warehouse and wants to accept new paddle orders as soon as possible.

“Obviously these are circumstances beyond our control, but I will work hard to get the paddles back into production, hopefully before the end of the paddling season,” he says.

The fire hit during an exciting time for Kjeldsen and his paddling partner, wife Jody. The couple is expecting their second child.

“I was planning to take some time off with the new baby’s arrival and was working hard to complete my outstanding paddle orders,” he says. “This fire has changed everything. The important thing is that no one was hurt.”

Kjeldsen returned to the scene several days later to see if he could salvage anything. Other business owners were doing the same. They sifted through charred equipment, metal, glass and vehicles. Garden Island newspaper officials also were there assessing damage to a three-month supply of newsprint that was being stored in the warehouse. It too was destroyed.

Oahu Publications, parent company of MidWeek and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, reached out and shipped a container of newsprint, and production never stopped.

Other businesses and residents did the same for the affected companies and their employees. It’s what Hawaii does when adversity strikes. We saw it during hurricanes Iwa and Iniki, and we’re seeing it once again.

“This fire has changed our lives, but we all will recover,” says Kjeldsen.

Kaua’i always does and will do so again.

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