Progress made on Pahala wildfires


By PETER SUR

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Firefighters continue to make progress against a huge fire that threatened the outskirts of Pahala.

The blaze, which had consumed thousands of acres, is still not out, but a well-timed rain shower and close monitoring kept it from growing much since Thursday.

“It’s approximately the same size it was yesterday,” said Battalion Chief Jerry Lum. Fire crews continued to monitor the burn site and extinguish active fires within it while watching the perimeter.

A statement from the Fire Department said Friday that the fire was still about 60 percent contained, unchanged from Thursday.

Asked whether the department has determined a cause of the fire, Lum replied, “Not at this time.”

Pahala Fire Capt. Shawn Hayashida agreed with Lum that the conditions at the fires were “pretty much the same as yesterday.”

“The mauka one (comprising 400 acres) is still about 95 percent contained, and we’re just monitoring the perimeter and working on hot spots,” Hayashida said.

The makai, which he said had burned about 4,800 acres, was also expected to burn itself out. He said it would be unlikely the fire would be more than 60 percent contained because of the difficulty in reaching some areas to create a fire break.

“We’re just kind of watching it because some of it (the perimeter), the accessibility is real difficult,” Hayashida said.

All roads remain open and no evacuation advisories are in effect, Lum said.

Although no structures were burned, the damage to agriculture, especially ML Macadamia orchards where the fire is believed to have started, is extensive. Lum was unable to provide a tally of the damage.

Christine Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a, the general manager of Ka‘u Community Radio (KAHU 91.7 FM Pahala), told of how community members in their besieged community came out and supported firefighters with donations of food and coffee to keep them going.

“A lot of people came out from the community and even went and cleaned the hospital so the patients could go back in,” Ka‘ehuae‘a said.

Those traveling southbound on Highway 11 will notice charring from the fire that begins around the 49 mile marker.

“From what I hear they still have quite a few hot spots,” Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a said.

Fourteen personnel from the Hawaii Fire Department were on the scene Friday, along with four from the National Park Service.

Two fire engines, one tanker and two brush trucks were assigned to monitor and maintain the perimeter.

Email Peter Sur at psur@hawaiitribune-herald.com.