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Big Island wildfire continues to burn in rural area

  • STATE DEPARTMENT OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES / ASSOCIATED PRESS 
                                A large wildfire burned brush and grass Thursday in a rural area of the Big Island. The blaze is not threatening any homes, but high winds and extremely dry conditions are making it difficult for crews to contain.

    STATE DEPARTMENT OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES / ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A large wildfire burned brush and grass Thursday in a rural area of the Big Island. The blaze is not threatening any homes, but high winds and extremely dry conditions are making it difficult for crews to contain.

A wildfire on Hawaii island grew overnight as firefighters worked to contain the large blaze that is burning in a rural area between the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes.

No homes were at risk, but the flames came within miles of a critical highway Friday. The area where the fire is burning is dominated by shrubs and grasslands that are parched from persistent drought in the region.

“The last two days, the fire was mostly burning in invasive fountain grass,” said Steve Bergfeld, Hawaii island branch manager for the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “Unfortunately, the fire has moved into some dryland forest which has native ohia lehua (trees), and we are trying to keep flames away from this sensitive area.”

Gusty winds were making it challenging to contain the blaze that started in the western reaches of the Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area, which is above Waikoloa Village, a town of about 7,000 people.

The fire had burned more than 25 square miles as of Friday, officials said. Earlier in the day, the state had estimated the fire had burned more than 39 square miles, but it reduced that number after formal aerial mapping Friday afternoon. They estimated the fire had burned about 15 square miles as of Thursday.

Crews used seven bulldozers to build fire lines around the blaze, and five military helicopters dropped thousands of gallons of water on the hottest part of the fire Friday, according to DLNR.

Flames were largely contained to the military training area land in a region bounded by Saddle Road, Highway 190 and an 1859 lava flow.

Fire managers are hoping the field of hardened lava rock will act as a natural fire break if it reaches that point, the department said.

In 2021 the same region of Hawaii island saw the state’s largest-ever wildfire, a blaze that destroyed several homes and threatened thousands more. It burned more than 70 square miles on the slopes of Mauna Kea, the state’s tallest mountain.

State officials said the fire actually began several weeks ago and smoldered until strong winds this week reinvigorated the flames. Strong winds have been recorded across the area, some in excess of 30 mph.

A spokesperson for the Army said that while there is active military training in the area, the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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