58 Acres Scorched in Pāʻia and Ha‘ikū Brush Fires
Maui Fire Crews responded to two brush fires that occurred within hours of one another in Pāʻia and Ha‘ikū on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017.
Fire Service Chief Edward Taomoto said reports of the Pāʻia brush came in at 1:35 p.m. on Wednesday and Pāʻia crews were on scene by 1:46 p.m.
The location of the fire was on Old Plantation Road at the intersection of Sunnyside Road and Baldwin Avenue, about a mile on the Kahului-side of Baldwin Avenue.
Chief Taomoto told Maui Now that conditions were windy at the time and crews worked hard to keep the fire from spreading.
Air 1 was called in and helped stop the fire. Air 1 was part of the missing helicopter search off the coast of Moloka‘i earlier in the day, and went back later yesterday afternoon to continue in the search.
By the time crews put the fire out, eight acres of former sugarcane were scorched.
No structures were threatened and there were no injuries.
Nineteen crews responded to the fire including a battalion chief, a hazmat crew from Kahului, tankers from Kahului and Wailea, and crews from Pāʻia, Makawao and Wailea.
Fire crews extinguished the Pāʻia fire at 5:50 p.m.
Forty-two minutes after the Pāʻia fire was extinguished, crews responded to reports of a brush fire makai-side of Hāna Highway at the Ha‘ikū Road intersection at 6:32 p.m. When Pāʻia crews arrived 10 minutes later, a half acre of land was already scorched.
“Crews had just left the scene of the Pāʻia fire and didn’t even make it back to the station when they responded to the second fire,” Chief Taomoto said.
The wind was blowing the fire towards Kahului and spread within feet of the highway resulting in a complete shutdown of Hāna Hwy from Maliko Gulch to Pauwela Road from 7:40 to 10:25 p.m.
Six homes on the makai side of Hāna Highway were evacuated due to the fire blowing downwind. Chief Taomoto said the fire came within five feet from homes.
He added that a dozer from Goodfellows assisted by cutting a fire break around the fire and a tanker from the county public works assisted in the fire.
Twenty-eight personnel responded to the Ha‘ikū fire, including three chief officers, three battalion chiefs, companies from Pāʻia and Makawao, an engine and tanker crew from Wailea and an engine hazmat and tanker from Kahului.
The fire was contained shortly after midnight at around 12:03 a.m. on Thursday, after scorching 50 acres.
Causes for both fires are undetermined.
Maui Now asked Chief Taomoto if the fires seemed suspicious.
In response to the Ha‘ikū fire, he said, “It doesn’t just light off by itself. It’s suspicions because of where it started which is the windward side of the field.”
He said crews were unable to investigate the spot of origin last night because the fire was moving so quickly and their primary concern was saving the residents and their homes.
With the recent brush fires occurring in fallow sugarcane fields Chief Taomoto said the cane fields being dry is not a factor on igniting the fire, but is a factor with how quickly the fire burns.
Multiple Maui Now readers have suggested that witnesses have seen a motorcycle leaving the scene of some of the most recent brush fires; however, Chief Taomoto said he hasn’t heard any reports of that.
“When you’re in an open field with nothing going on, you start eliminating the potential igniting sources—structures and power lines, human habitation—and you come up with nothing, so there is the potential human cause and someone fled the scene,” he said.
Chief Taomoto said if the conditions are right and multiple factors line-up perfectly something as simple as a cigarette thrown out of a window could start some of the roadside fires. However, he said it’s suspicious when there are multiple fires within a small area, he used the three small grass fires off the Pali last month as an example.
“Three people throwing cigarettes out the window at the same time and having it ignite is unlikely,” he said.
There has still been no determination of what caused that fire.
When asked if he’s noticed a difference in the amount of fires that have occurred so far this year compared to last, Chief Taomoto said it’s definitely lower this year. “Last year we had Māʻalaea, Ukumehame, Kahikinui and Launiopoko fires which were really big fires, I don’t think we’re on the same track as last year,” he said.
The Kahikinui fire resulted in 5,800 acres being scorched and the Māʻalaea fire resulted in 4,700 acres burned. From Jan. 1 to July 11, 2016, Maui had 134 brush fires and 12,442 acres burned.
More updates on how many fires there have been so far this year and how many acres have been scorched will be posted once the information becomes available.