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Kilauea blaze defies firefighters

By Gregg K. Kakesako

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:56 a.m. HST, Mar 22, 2011

National Park Service firefighters are still working the northern edge of a wildfire in the East Rift Zone of Kilauea that was sparked by the Ka­moa­moa eruption on March 5.

Gary Wuchner, a park service fire information officer, said eight park serv­ice firefighters from Hawaii island and 27 from California are battling the blaze along a 3-mile line along the northern flank of the Napau fire, which has burned 1,833 acres and is still not contained.

Because the fire was about seven miles from the Kilauea Visitor Center yesterday, it did not pose a threat with tradewinds pushing flames south.

"The fuel load is pretty extreme," Wuchner said, referring to the vegetation that grows among the lava rocks.

"It's been raining, so it's pretty slippery and treacherous," he added.

As the day progresses and the humidity drops, the vegetation dries up, increase the fire hazard.

Firefighters are digging up vegetation and extinguishing any burning material in a technique known as "cold trailing," Wuchner said.

"The plan is to augment these operations with water drops if necessary," he said. "There was no wind yesterday (Sunday), but it is expected to pick up today and the humidity is expected to drop."

Wuchner said the fire's prog­ress slowed Thursday as winds died down. The flames also had less fuel as they hit an area that burned in 2003.

Park firefighters had been mapping and monitoring the fire while waiting for more favorable conditions before directly engaging the fire, Wuchner said.

He said the California firefighters are from Eldorado National Forest near Lake Tahoe; Whiskeytown National Recreational Area, west of Redding; and Sequoia National Forest.

The Whiskeytown firefighters started working on the north flank of the fire line on Saturday. Protection of the north flank of the volcano is considered the most important since it is closest to the East Rift Zone's special ecological area — a rain forest and home to "many sensitive and endangered species," Wuchner said.

The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park firefighters are patrolling Chain of Craters Road in front of the fire for visitor protection.






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