A Thursday cookout in the shade of a 50-year-old Chinese banyan at Kamehameha Community Park proved deadly to the tree because partygoers dumped hot charcoal at its base.
City Parks and Recreation Department Director Les Chang said department arborists determined it would be unsafe to leave the severely damaged tree standing in the heavily used Kalihi park near Bishop Museum.
"If they say it needs to come down immediately, you know it’s pretty bad," he said.
Chang said the careless charcoal dumpers are unknown, and since the fire is presumed to be an accident, they will not be sought. "I hope it wasn’t malicious."
There are designated charcoal disposal pits there and at other city parks where barbecuing is permitted. "This is a lesson for users to use the pits or douse it with water," the parks director said.
There are no statistics, but other park trees have been similarly damaged. "It’s not every weekend, but it’s enough to cause us concern," he said.
The tree was so large that "if two people stretched arms around it, their fingers would barely meet," Chang said. "People don’t look at trees as living things critical to our environment. It’s sad. … After years of being shade for countless people, it’s gone because of carelessness."
The tree was still smoldering yesterday when park workers discovered the damage and when the demolition crew got down to the core of the trunk, Chang said. "We suspect it was damaged before, damage built up over the years, and this time it burned the inside out," he said.