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Big Island wild fire poses threat to environmentally sensitive area

By Gregg K. Kakesako

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 09:51 a.m. HST, Mar 23, 2011


A wildfire sparked on March 5 by the Kamoamoa eruption on the east rift zone of the Big Island's Kilauea Volcano poses a threat to an environmentally sensitive area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

An official said Monday that the Napau fire had grown to about 1,924 acres and there is "no estimated containment date."

Gary Wuchner, National Park Service fire information officer, said "pockets of high heat remain on the fire front" on the north and south flanks of the fire. The northern edge of the fire is closest to a rainforest in the special ecological area of the park.

"The importance of this ecological area cannot be overstated, as it is the home to rare and endangered and other endemic Hawaiian species of animals and plants. All fires in this area are threats and must be put out," he said.

But Wuchner said, "There are no homes or threats to park structures."

Rain and snowstorms in California prevented the arrival of additional Park Service firefighters until Monday night; they were on the fire line Tuesday.

Wuchner said rains over the last few days on the Big Island have slowed the progress of the fire, but that tradewinds returned Monday from an easterly direction, fanning the flames.

Gusty trades, up to 30 mph, have been recorded over the fire area.

The first group of Park Service firefighters from the mainland were shuttled Monday into the fire area to begin mop-up and "cooling" operations along the north flank, Wuchner said.

"Standing dead trees pose a high hazard safety issues to the firefighters," Wuchner said.

"They are moving along the fire's edge to cool and extinguish each hot spot, mainly logs and tree stumps and deep vegetation, to inhibit further fire spread."

The patches of downed and standing trees were killed by the 2003 fire and the recent drought.

The fire is active on the southern flank near the Chain of Craters Road.

Fire engines are patrolling the Chain of Craters Road, which reopened Sunday. 

More Park Service firefighters were to arrive in Hilo Tuesday from Sequoia National Forest in California. They will join the 27 firefighters from Whiskeytown National Recreation Area near Redding, Calif.; Olympic National Park near Seattle; Eldorado National Forest near Tahoe, Calif.; and  Stanislaus National Forest and Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara, Calif.






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