Firefighters continue battling large Hawaii wildfire

Dozens of firefighters are battling a large wildfire in a rural area of Hawaii's Big Island

ByCALEB JONES Associated Press
August 12, 2022, 6:54 PM
This photo provided by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources shows a large wildfire in a rural area of Hawaii's Big Island that is not threatening any homes, but high winds and extremely dry conditions are making it difficult for crews
This photo provided by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources shows a large wildfire in a rural area of Hawaii's Big Island that is not threatening any homes, but high winds and extremely dry conditions are making it difficult for crews to contain the blaze. (Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources via AP)
The Associated Press

HONOLULU -- A wildfire on Hawaii's Big Island grew overnight as firefighters worked to contain the large blaze that is burning in a rural area between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes.

No homes were at risk but the flames came within miles of a critical highway Friday. The area where the fire is burning is dominated by shrubs and grasslands that are parched from persistent drought in the region.

Gusty winds were making it challenging to contain the blaze that started in the western reaches of the U.S. Army's Pohakuloa Training Area, which is above Waikoloa Village, a town of about 7,000 people.

The fire had burned more than 39 square miles (101 square kilometers) as of Friday, officials estimated.

Crews were using seven bulldozers to build fire lines around the blaze and five military helicopters were dropping thousands of gallons of water on the hottest part of the fire Friday, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Flames were largely contained to the military training area land in a region bounded by Saddle Road, Highway 190 and an 1859 lava flow.

Fire managers are hoping the field of hardened lava rock will act as a natural fire break if it reaches that point, the department said.

Last year the same region of the Big Island saw the state's largest-ever wildfire, a blaze that destroyed several homes and threatened thousands more. It burned more than 70 square miles (181 square kilometers) on the slopes of Mauna Kea, the state's tallest mountain.

Like many islands in the Pacific, Hawaii’s dry seasons are getting more extreme with climate change. Large wildfires highlight the dangers of climate-related heat and drought for many communities throughout the U.S. and other hotspots around the world. But experts say fires on typically wet, tropical islands in the Pacific are also on the rise.

State land officials said the fire actually began several weeks ago and smoldered until strong winds this week reinvigorated the flames. Strong winds have been recorded across the area, some in excess of 30 mph (48 kph).

Winds had eased some, but gusts were expected to be upwards of 25 mph (40 kph) later Friday, said Steve Bergfield, Hawaii Island branch chief for the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

The area is dominated by shrubs and grasslands that have been dried by persistent drought.

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources released video of the blaze Thursday.

A spokesperson for the Army told The Associated Press that while there is active military training in the area, the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

“There are units up there training, I can't confirm or deny if live fire was taking place,” said Michael O. Donnelly, chief of external communications for the U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii. “It's business as usual, but the exact cause we don't know.”

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AP journalist Jennifer Sinco Kelleher contributed to this report.

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