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Winds fanning flames at Napau fire on slopes of Kilauea

The Napau wildfire in Kilauea’s east rift zone has grown to more than 2,000 acres since it was ignited by lava flows earlier this month and there is no estimate on when the fire will be contained.

Firefighters are being hampered by strong trade winds with gusts up to 40 miles per hour. Flames were visible along the south flank and Chain of Craters Road, where the fire is most active.

Helicopters have been shuttling National Park Service firefighting crews and equipment into the fire area. Forty firefighters from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Olympic and Yosemite National Parks, the Pacific West Regional Office of NPS, National NPS Fire Office in Boise and the Eldorado, Sequoia, Stanislaus and Los Padres National Forests are battling the fire 

Gary Wuchner, the park service fire information officer, said the firefighters may camp out near the fire line to reduce the number of helicopter flights.

Helicopter bucket drops were utilized Tuesday to cool hotspots and slow the fire’s progress.   

The Chain of Craters Road was closed approximately 6 miles from the visitor center at Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu.  

The wildfire started March 5 at the  Kamoamoa fissure eruption. 

Wuchner said the firefighters’ priority is keep the blaze out of the east rift zone’s special ecological area, an intact lowland rain forest, which is the home of endangered Hawaiian bat, Hawaiian hawk, and other uniquely Hawaiian plants and animals such as Hawaiian thrush,  lama and sandalwood trees, happy face spiders, carnivorous caterpillars, and Hawaiian honeycreepers.

“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.”

Park Service firefighters from the mainland were shuttled into the fire area Tuesday to begin mop-up and “cooling” operations along the north flank, nearest the special ecological area, 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.”

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