A fast-moving blaze ripped through the historic Akebono Theater building in Pahoa early Monday, causing about $1.8 million in damage by destroying several businesses and at least four apartment units and stunning the residents of this sleepy Big Island town.
"There's so much memories," said Tiffany Lopes, an employee at Luquin's Mexican Restaurant, which was gutted in the blaze. "It hurts because it's the hear of Pahoa. "It's what everyone knows and now it's not going to be the same."
The fire started just after midnight, and large flames could be seen coming from the building on Pahoa Village Road.
A Hawaii News Now videographer on scene could feel the heat about 100 yards away.
Tanya Gellatly, who lives about 200 feet away from the theater, evacuated her home with her kids as a precaution. She said her husband also heard propane tanks exploding.
“I heard some people yelling in the street like, ‘What's going on?” she said. “I don't know if they saw people in the apartments above Luquin’s, but the lights were on up there, and they were saying ‘Get out, the place is on fire.'"
The American Red Cross of Hawaii is assisting families left homeless by the blaze.
Salvador Luquin, owner of Luquin's restaurant, said he was still trying to figure out how to move forward after the blaze.
"I just want to thank the community for all of their support all these years," he said. "I hope soon we can get back into the kitchen."
The Akebono Theater was built around 1919, and is one of the oldest theaters in the islands. The theater posted a photo of the blaze on its Facebook page Monday with the message: "Very sad day for all those who enjoyed this historic place."
Luquin’s, meanwhile, was one of the few businesses that stayed open to feed the community when the area was threatened by the Puna lava flow in 2014.
HNN has reached out to the Hawaii Fire Department, but has not received further information. The cause of the blaze is not known.
Big Island officials say the massive fire that destroyed Pahoa's Akebono theater caused $1-point-8 million dollars in damage.