Maui News

WEATHER INCREASES FIRE DANGER: FRESH LAHAINA CREW ROTATES INTO FIREFIGHTING EFFORT

September 2, 2009, 10:36 AM HST
* Updated September 2, 11:43 AM
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UPDATE: 10:30 A.M. Wednesday, September 02, 2009

By Wendy Osher

Firefighters now have 50% containment on a 5-day old fire on Molokai that has burned 8,000 acres since Saturday afternoon. 

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Photo courtesy Jeff Zuckernick

Photo courtesy Jeff Zuckernick

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Two TH-47 Chinook Helicopters from the National Guard are being used today to assist as crews work to get a better handle on the forestry area above Kaunakakai in an area known as the ‘ÅŒnini Gulch.  The choppers have been returning to Kaneohe for fueling and are now using Onealii Park as a landing zone.

County Civil Defense Administrator Gen Iinuma said crews are mindful of the reduced maneuverability of the larger helicopters.  The helicopters drop large amounts of water weighing 8 pounds per gallon into rugged terrain that is otherwise inaccessible by ground crews.

Iinuma said the idea is to saturate the forestry area to prevent the fire from jumping across and getting down into the Kawela Plantation district where there is still a significant source of un-burnt brush that could fuel the fire.

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Crews continue their efforts to maintain the perimeter of the blaze near the populated Kalamaula, Kaunakakai and Kawela, and are focusing on monitoring hot spots for potential flare-ups.

Of the 8,000 acres that has burned, 400 acres was scorched in the Molokai State Forest Reserve, and 100 acres was burned in the Nature Conservancy area, posing a threat to endangered species.

There are a total of about 60 firefighter personnel on scene today including a fresh crew from the Lahaina station.  Fifteen people from the National Park Service and more than 20 wildland firefighters from the Department of Forestry and Wildlife are assisting dozens of County firefighters on the ground.

Firefighters will face some additional challenges today in terms of weather.  The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag warning for the Leeward side of all islands.  The warning means there will be a combination of strong trade winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures, increasing the fire danger to critical levels.  The warning is in effect from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  The National Weather Service says little change in weather conditions is expected on Thursday, with the possibility of another day of critical fire weather conditions.

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