Lava sparks forest fire concerns


The slow-moving lava flow northeast of Pu‘u ‘O‘o might stall before it ever makes its way through the Wao Kele O Puna Forest Reserve.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no reason for concern, according to Frank Commendador.

The president of Fern Acres Community Association said the neighborhood group is beginning to prepare for the possibility that the molten rock could produce a forest fire if the area becomes dry enough.

“There’s no immediate danger,” he said. “We’re not picking up our stuff and getting ready to leave.”

Still, Commendador said the approximately 1,800 residents in the neighborhood should be prepared.

“Should we have a dry summer,” he said, “a forest fire is an issue we need to start looking at.”

So far, that has not been a problem. The 14-month-old Kahaualea 2 flow has burned forest in its path, but conditions have been too wet to allow flames to spread.

In case that changes, Commendador said the community needs to be able to evacuate and provide firefighters with proper access to the forest.

He said the association will form an ad hoc group to tackle the issue.

“What we simply want to do is start the dialogue,” Commendador said.

The flow is travelling parallel to the neighborhood about 1.7 miles away. The lava itself is not seen as a threat to Fern Acres.

As of March 21, it had moved 5.1 miles from Pu‘u ‘O‘o.

Darryl Oliveira, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator, said his office and other agencies are keeping a watch on forest conditions.

“Currently, the forest is very wet, very green,” he said.

“If things start to change, we may talk about defensive strategies,” Oliveira added.

Jim Kauahikaua, lead scientist at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said the flow’s eruption rate remains low and there’s no danger at the moment to residential areas downslope, such as Ainaloa and Hawaiian Paradise Park.

“The longer it goes like this, the higher risk of there being a disruption,” he said, referring to the lava being directed elsewhere along the East Rift Zone.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune- herald.com.

 

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