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Homes damaged, hospital evacuated due to brush fires on Maui, Hawaii island

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 3:47 a.m. HST, Jun 19, 2012

Three homes were damaged on Maui and a small hospital was evacuated on Hawaii Island as wind-powered wildfires wreaked havoc for firefighters at multiple fires on both islands Monday afternoon.

On Maui, three homes were damaged in Kula and residents on Hapapa Road were evacuated, said Lee Mainaga, Maui Fire Department fire services chief. One sustained some roof damage. The other two sustained unknown minor damage, he said.

It is unclear how many people have been evacuated, he said.

About 55 firefighters were fighting the blaze. Firefighters are being hampered by steep terrain, narrow roads, gulches, and heavy fuel in the form of ecucalyptus and waddle trees.

Winds have eased off somewhat, he said.

Meanwhile, about a dozen firefighters from the state Department of Forest and Wildlife firefighters are battling a separate fire in the Makawao State Forest Reserve above the Kahakapao reservoir in the area of Olinda.

About four acres were burned Monday and about 12 people are in the field, said Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman Deborah Ward. 

Weather conditions have contributed to the fire, DLNR officials said. A high wind advisory was issued by the National Weather Service for the fire area, with winds 15-25 miles an hour with gusts up to 50 mph.

Earlier in the day, state officials closed the Kula State Forest Reserve, including Polipolii Spring State Park, due to high winds and danger caused by falling trees and branches. About 10 individuals camping at the park or other parts of Haleakala National Park were evacuated. Closure signs were posted at Waipoli Road gate and Skyline Road gate.

In Hawaii County, more than 50 firefighters were battling fires on two fronts totaling an estimated 650 acres in Pahala, on the southern end of the island, said Assistant Fire Chief Glen Honda said.

About 350 acres burned on the mauka side of Pahala town while 300 acres have burned makai, Honda said.

Mamalahoa Highway, the road around the highway, was shut down about 2:30 p.m. but reopened shortly before 9 p.m.

Firefighters were more concerned about the makai fire because it is near the community hospital, which has been evacuated to Naalehu Community Center, he said.

Some residents were considering evacuating on their own but there have not been mandatory evacuations, he said.

Protecting the hospital and homes is the number one priority and there are several homes that are of a concern, he said. 

"We're hoping the winds change, and they usually change in the evening," Honda said.

It is unclear if the two fires, which began at 2:05 p.m. and 2:40 p.m. respectively, are related, he said.

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