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Hawaii island wildfire burns 4,000 acres; highway closed

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 4:08 a.m. HST, Jun 20, 2012

A wildfire in Hawaii County's southern district of Kau has scorched 3,000 acres and was being fought Tuesday by 34 firefighters aided by the county's helicopter.

This afternoon, police shut down Highway 11, or Mamalahoa Highway, near the 49-mile marker and at the 46-mile marker to Kamani Street.

The National Park Service is also assisting with three personnel and two apparatus.

Hawaii County Assistant Fire Chief Aaron Arbles that firefighters are defending a roadside coffee stand and a nearby house near the 49 mile-marker on Highway 11.

The fire there is burning north toward Hilo, and away from Pahala town.

Bulldozers are cutting firebreaks in the Cane Haul Road area along Alii Springs Road, Higashi Camp Road where fire has spread to a eucalyptus grove and J. Egami pasture.

The 21-bed Kau Hospital remained closed, he added. On Monday 15 patients and hospital staff were relocated to Naalehu Community Center 13 miles away because of the dense smoke.

Arbles said four bulldozers, one helicopter and 12 fire vehicles will be used today.

Arbles said firefighters using bulldozers were trying to cut a break around a 10,000-gallon diesel storage tank in the middle of a macadamia orchard on the makai side of the highway.

After the fire jumped the highway, police shut down the only artery in the area between mile markers 50 and 51 at 4:05 p.m., effectively shutting down vehicular access for motorists heading south between Kona and Volcano. Police reopened the highway at 8:50 p.m.

The fire has stayed away from residential sections of Pahala.

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