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Kohala Pub Hub director said they will rebuild after blaze decimates historical community center

HONOLULU(KHON2) - A late night blaze ripped through the Kohala Village Hub on the Big Island of Hawaii. The Hawaii County Fire Department estimated the long time community mainstay sustained more than $1 million in damage. 

The initial call came in at 11:23 p.m. For a fire at the Kohala Pub Hub located at the intersection of Hawi Road and Akoni Pule Highway in North Kohala.

Chris Scleza, director of operations, was there at the time of the fire.

"We closed up about 9 o'clock but we had an anniversary party in so we ended up being open a little later til 10. After cleaning up we all left about 10:30p.m.," Scelza explained.

Scelza, who lives on the five acre property, said he had just gotten out of the shower when he smelled something funny.

"As I was making my way through the buildings to find out where it was coming from, I noticed a bit of glow coming out of the back of the restaurant."

He said he initially didn't know it was a fire until he got closer.

"When I went over there and inspected it, it was definitely a fire and it was little too large for one person. At that time it was about 10x10 on the side of the building and I knew that the extinguishers that were on hand were not going to do the trick," Scelza said.

That's when he dialed 911 and ran to the hotel to wake up the guests to get them to safety.

"There were some people up and out and slightly panicking because at that point (the fire) went very quickly from its early stages to a full on structural fire and so it had a lot of sound. You'd be surprised at how much sound is coming out of a fire blazing very close to you. Those are scary moments," Scelza said.

"There was lots of small explosions of things. It wasn't propane tanks blowing up. It was actually beer kegs and CO2 tanks blowing up--those are things that explode due to pressure and heat," Scleza explained.

Hawaii County Fire Battalion Chief William Bergin said the fire was concentrated in the kitchen but it looks it started just outside of the kitchen in electrical panel.

Bergin said they faced several challenges with fighting this fire. 

"When we were trying to get the fire knocked down, we had a partial roof collapse. So it was a little bit risky to send people in to try and get the fire stopped. But we were able to eventually gain entry and get to the seat of the fire," Bergin explained.

He said the blaze also came very close to a 2,000 gallon propane tank, just outside the kitchen.

Scelza is grateful that didn't explode and everyone got out safely. But he said this fire took a big part of the Kohala community

"It's always been considered the hub of this community," Scelza said as he fought back tears. "Its been a lot of things along the way, but it's always been a place of social gathering. It's always been a place of fun."

He said the Hub was built more than 70 years ago. It's one of those places regulars visited  and shared stories about the good ole days.

"We'll definitely allow the community some closure...we'll have to take a real good look at (the building). There are some of the structures are intact and will definitely we'll be able to preserve some of its history but there's a lot of damage."

"From what I've seen, its estimated at $1 million dollars in damages. But this building is worth so much more than that. It's hard to put a price on what was there," Scelza said.

Scelza said they do plan to rebuild.

The cause of the fire is still unknown.

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