Polipoli forest reserve blaze still burning

Polipoliforest reserve blaze still burning

27 January 2007

published by www.mauinews.com

Hawaii, USA — Difficult terrain and cloud cover that hamperedhelicopters slowed the effort to contain a fire in the Polipoli forest reservethat scorched an estimated 30 acres of pine and native forest, fire officialssaid Wednesday.

The fire that broke out near theWaiohuli trailhead was reported at 1:17 p.m. Tuesday by a hiker and otherssighting smoke in the area, according to fire and state forestry officials. Itwas not posing a threat to any structures, but there are a number of nativeplant communities in the area, Maui District forester John Cumming said.

Fire crews were expecting to battle the fire into the weekend, said DeputyFire Chief Neal Bal. He said the Air One fire helicopter could be only usedsparingly Tuesday afternoon as low cloud cover made it hard for the chopper tofly in the area.

But overnight, flames could be seen flaring on the southwest slopes ofHaleakala where the fire was burning at between 6,500 and 7,000 feet elevation.

Cumming said the fire is spreading across an area with heavy growth of trees,resulting in “torching,” when the heat causes a tree to ignite like a torch.

“Today (Wednesday) the crews were experiencing extreme fire behavior,” hesaid. “There is still considerable torching on the flanks. When one of thosetrees goes off, it’s quite a sight.”

He said it was burning in the forest reserve near where the Upper WaiohuliTrail crosses Waipoli Road. While most of the vegetation is introduced trees, hesaid there are pockets of native plants including a native geranium andsandalwood.

The steep slopes and clouds made fighting the fire difficult, with much ofthe effort aimed at keeping it from spreading across the slopes.

“We’ve got 19 personnel of our own up there, not counting the tankers.The county had three helicopters involved and there were county and privatetankers and heavy equipment,” he said.

The fire was not under control, and Cumming said Wednesday evening that thefire crews were not sure if they had been able to contain it because of theterrain. The cloud cover also prevented firefighters from assessing the firearea, he said.

But it has helped that the winds have been light, with the National WeatherService issuing a special report specifically on the Waiohuli area to assistfirefighters in developing a strategy for putting out the flames.

“At least we don’t have a lot of wind. The winds are minimal. That’sone thing in our favor,” he said.

The special fire weather report for Waiohuli said there would be continuedlight winds from the northeast and moving to the east today, with low humidityand clear skies through the day. The forecast cited possible southwesterly windsand showers on Sunday.

Bal said county fire crews were stretched thin on Tuesday after a secondbrush fire was reported in Honokohau in West Maui at around 3:55 p.m. He saidthe Air One helicopter was used to douse the fire near the 35 mile marker alongHonoapiilani Highway on the slopes mauka of the highway.

Police said the fire began along the road and stretched 30 to 40 yards,burning scrub brush and ironwood trees. Officers closed a section ofHonoapiilani Highway from 4 to 7:30 p.m. as fire crews battled the fire.

Police records indicate the Honokohau fire was extinguished at around 8:24p.m. Tuesday.

With the Waiohuli fire still blazing Wednesday, the state Parks Divisionclosed the Polipoli Springs State Recreational Area, including the campgroundsand cabin. The Parks Division said campers with permits may request refunds ortransfer their permits to the Waianapanapa State Park in Hana.

Fire officials said the cause of the fire was undetermined.

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