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MANOA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu firefighters are at the University of Hawaii Manoa campus Monday following a building fire that broke Sunday afternoon.
Fire heavily damaged a portable building at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, possibly destroying hundreds of financial documents for the entire UH system.
The fire continued to smolder during the noon hour, choking much of the university area and Moiliili with thick smoke. Authorities evacuated Kalo Place, immediately downwind of the blaze, because of the heavy smoke.
UH security officer Rey Gomez was patrolling on foot at the Stan Sheriff Center when he spotted black smoke shortly after 8 a.m. He described it as, "Just like a big -- like a huge barbecue, basically, coming out from all four windows, just flames coming out to the roof. I mean it was huge. First time I've seen something like that," Gomez said.
"In the back of my head I'm just thinking I'm hoping that nobody came in during the weekend to do some last-minute paperwork," he added.
Honolulu Fire Capt. Robert Main said no one was in the building at the time the fire started. He also said that the construction of the building and its contents made fighting the blaze difficult. "We do have a lot of paperwork, equipment, electronics that we're trying to deal with," said Main. "Also the construction of the building, there's a lot of open space that we're going to have to open up and get in there."
Fire crews were able to control the flames about 20 minutes after the initial call, but flames re-ignited when a hole opened in the roof, allowing more fire-fueling oxygen in.
According to UH spokesman Gregg Takayama, the building served as the fiscal management and procurement office, handling documents and financial records for the 60,000 or so students and 7,000 to 8,000 faculty and staff of all ten campuses in the UH system. According to Takayama, this included "payroll records, procurement records, accounts payable, student loan information for the entire UH system."
Takayama also said the office was in the process of transitioning to a completely computerized fiscal management system.
"There is a substantial amount of records that are on paper, and we suspect that might be items that might be lost of damaged by water, so there's substantial impact in terms of recovering the records and the man-hours that will have to be put in to reconstructing what is in there," Takayama said.
The cause of the fire is still undetermined. Damage is estimated at $600,000.