Kula fire one month later: daily fire watch continues
A four-person team from the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife continues to patrol the lines established in the forest reserve and on adjacent private ranch land to douse hot spots and smokers at the 1,000-acre Olinda fire.
The fire started the same day, Aug. 8, as the devastating fire that leveled Lahaina town and left at least 115 dead or many more unaccounted for.
State officials with the Department of Land and Natural Resources say serious drought conditions exist with some of the driest conditions anyone remembers at the Waihou Spring Forest Reserve, which was established in 1909.
On Wednesday, Chris Chow a DOFAW forester out on fire watch said, “I’m born and raised on Maui, and I’ve never seen Upcountry as dry as it is this year. I was looking at old satellite images and you can see that it’s progressively getting drier, like all upcountry is completely brown. These roads that we’re driving, you can tell this place is dry based on the soil. It is just powder. Just walking on it, you’ve got powder everywhere. The vegetation is just so crispy. When it was catching fire, it was like within seconds an entire bush would be consumed.”
This fire is stubborn and like ones before it, could continue smoldering deep into the roots of trees for as long as two months.
Standing near a mammoth tree that toppled during the fire, DOFAW’s John Neizman said, “What we have here is one tree that fell over, and the inside is burning. So, we had to do some notching and then add water just to get the hotspot inside a tree.”
That’s one tree. Dozens of others continue smoking and that’s the reason the DOFAW team continues their daily reconnaissance. Their tools include a 4,000-gallon contract water tanker, one of DOFAW’s 250-gallon pumper trucks, portable water bags, shovels, and Pulaski’s (a specialized tool used in wildland firefighting).
In addition to be sure the fire is 100% controlled and out cold, given the current state of heightened awareness about wildfires, Chow added, “Truly one of the biggest things that comes out of these patrols is showing a presence, because right now everyone’s on edge. Anytime people see smoke pop up, they call 911. And so, our purpose here is letting the Maui Fire Department and other first responders take care of other things and then we can just handle things here.”
Despite the Maui fires receiving worldwide media coverage, attention, and concern, DLNR has received reports of people having bonfires and lighting fireworks nearby in the Kula Forest Reserve and Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area.
Chow and his DOFAW firefighting colleagues have expressed dismay at the reports.
“Especially right now that kind of stuff is totally discouraged…any kind of open flame, even barbecues. People need to calm down on that kind of stuff until we get through this dry season. Literally anything from a cigarette butt to a hot catalytic converter parked over dry grass can start a wildfire instantly. This place is a tinder box for sure,” Chow said.
“There’s been so much suffering, loss of life, and property destruction, we hope everyone will take on wildfire prevention as their personal kuleana (responsibility),” said DOFAW Maui Branch Manager Scott Fretz.