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Lava-ignited brush fires keep Big Isle firefighters busy

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  • and a small brush fire was active along the flow margin.

PAHOA, Hawaii » The lava flow inching toward Pahoa caused two brush fires Thursday that continued to burn about 350 acres into the evening.

Both fires started from the active lava flow and were burning in a northeast direction, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense.

The fires were to the west of Highway 130, the area’s main throughway, about 0.6 to 0.9 mile from the Aina­loa subdivision.

According to a news release, the first breakout was about three-quarters of a mile upward of the Niau­lani subdivision and burned about 150 acres of brush.

The second breakout was about 1 mile from the Aina­loa subdivision and burned about 200 acres.

Two bulldozers were on the scene Thursday night to maintain the firebreaks, along with two choppers making water bucket drops.

A majority of the Aina­loa area lacks access to water, and many residents use catchment systems.

Hawaii County Assistant Fire Chief Gantry Andrade said the first fire started close to 1 p.m. Thursday.

Fire officials were battling the first threat when a pilot noticed the other fire, he said, which came in at about 2:30 p.m.

No evacuation had been ordered, but the Pahoa Community Center will open for residents if one is needed.

Andrade said the fires likely would be under control by Friday.

"We’re optimistic with nightfall approaching that the fires will slow down," he said Thursday evening.

A breakout of lava behind the stalled front of the flow from Kilauea Volcano had moved about 200 yards Thursday, igniting one of the brush fires.

Hawaii County Civil Defense said the breakout, now the most active part of the flow, is about 0.6 mile from Highway 130 and could head in the direction of the Pahoa police and fire stations.

The progressing flow that might overtake the stalled tip started to emerge from the breakout Jan. 9, volcano scientists said.

"It is the most active part of the flow at the flow tip, and it very well could become the new active flow tip," said Steve Brantley, acting scientist-in-charge with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. "Whether it is a few meters behind or ahead of the stalled tip doesn’t seem that important to draw attention to. It’s really the active part of the flow at this point."

The breakout could head down a path of steepest descent that would take it to the police and fire stations near Highway 130, but Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oli­veira said it’s still too early to tell.

"One of the paths of steepest descent does take it in a direction of the fire and police station, but given the current activity we’ve seen and the trend that we’ve seen, it’s somewhat premature to say that it is imminent or immediate," he said. "But definitely there are paths of steepest descent that would take it in that direction."

The lava flow, which has been threatening the lower Puna area for months now, caused a separate brush fire Tuesday that burned about 300 acres.

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