Fires, then rains wreak havoc on Maui

Fires,then rains wreak havoc on Maui

23  December 2007

published by 

WAILUKU, Maui — Wildlife fires early this year and this month’s torrentialrains came as a one-two punch from Mother Nature and led to severe flooding anddebris runoff in upper Kula, state forestry officials acknowledge.

But other factors, such as persistent, unusually dry conditions and Kula’ssteep terrain, also contributed to the flooding that even the best efforts byforestry workers were powerless to prevent, The Maui News reported.

“There’s nothing we could have done; nothing more than what we’vealready been trying to accomplish,” said John Cummings, the Maui Branchmanager of the Division of Forestry and Wildlife of the Department of Land andNatural Resources.

Cummings’ comments follow last week’s release of a preliminary analysis bycounty, state and federal officials of the causes and contributing factors offlooding that inundated upper Kula but also affected Kihei, Lahaina andHonokohau.

The report’s preliminary findings focused on the “extreme floodingconditions” that resulted in the destruction and/or damage to homes andproperty in the Kula, Polipoli and Waiohuli areas. Preliminary damage estimatesare at $1.2 million for Maui alone.

Mayor Charmaine Tavares’ office released the preliminary analysis, withspokeswoman Mahina Martin expressing the mayor’s desire to get personallyinvolved in finding ways, if any, to prevent a repeat of this month’s massiverunoff and flooding.

“We’re looking at what would be possible. How do we not let this happenagain? And, is there anything to lessen the risks?” Martin said.

“This has been so devastating to the community that Mayor Tavares wantsto personally review the situation and be involved. … She sees this as areally serious thing that has happened to people.”

Perry Artates, the past president of the Waiohuli Hawaiian Homesteads, hasbeen talking with friends and family who have had their homes either destroyedor severely damaged in the Kona storm that peaked Dec. 5.

“Act of God, act of Mother Nature, whatever you call it, the importantthing is no lives were taken,” Artates said.

He said he’s heard complaints from residents in upper Kula who point blame atcounty and state officials for not taking preventative measures.

“If we had control by some authority of telling how Mother Nature shouldreign, everyone would have no problem,” Artates said. “I say we pointthe finger to Mother Nature and let her answer the question.”

State and county officials said they’ve received numerous requests for anexplanation for the massive runoff and questions about the extent to whichburned areas of the Kula Forest Reserve contributed to flood damage. In lateJanuary and early February, the fire burned more than 2,000 acres between 6,000and 7,000 feet elevation in the forest.

“We owe the public an explanation,” Martin acknowledged Friday,adding that the findings provided so far were not final and were still beingcompiled.

The preliminary analysis done by state, federal and county officials pointsto the lack of foliage in the Kula Forest Reserve as a factor in not retainingstorm runoff, but it lists other explanations as well.

Led by the county’s Civil Defense Agency, the storm damage analysis teamincluded experts in geographical information, Geographic Positioning Systemmapping and computer assisted-technology. There also were representatives fromthe National Weather Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the NationalResource Conservation Services, and the state Department of Land and NaturalResources Forestry and Wildlife Division as well as DLNR’s Engineering Branch.

Factors that resulted in destruction and/or damage to home and property inthe Kula, Polipoli and Waiohuli areas included:



  • An intense period of torrential rainfall, with 6 to 8 inches falling in a three-hour period during the peak of the rainstorm.
  • Ground conditions in recently burned areas of the Kula Forest Reserve that did not allow much water absorption and increased the potential for water runoff.
  • The lack of trees and foliage in the burned area that also contributed to runoff.
  • Already-saturated soil above areas most affected by flooding.
  • Deposits of basalt rock beneath the top soil of areas affected by heavy rains, with the rock acting as a barrier to water percolating into the ground.
  • The steep slope of the mountain, which aided in accelerating water flowing downhill.
  • A historic lack of heavy rainfall in the region for 20 or more years, which meant there had not been a periodic flushing of drainage ditches, ravines, gulches and riverbeds, and, over time, debris accumulated and formed barriers to high volumes of water when heavy rainfall did come

The preliminary report also addressed how debris piles found in and aroundall elevations of gulches where flooding occurred were made up almost entirelyof black wattle trees, a fast-growing, short life cycle tree.

But black wattle trees came from a densely vegetated area two miles downhillof the Kula Forest Reserve, which contains mostly pine trees and no black wattle,said Glenn Shishido, a forestry management supervisor.

Shishido, who has about 30 years of experience with the DLNR and the upkeepof the Kula Forest Reserve, noted that water and debris runoff has occurred inyears past during the reserve’s greenest times.

“We’ve had occurrences of blocked culverts and damages to the roads andtrees falling even when the area was unburned,” Shishido said.

The fire in the Kula Reserve was first reported Jan. 23, and it wasn’tdeclared under control until the first week of February. The fire blackened2,291 acres and had a 16-mile perimeter. Firefighters have suspected that theblaze may have been started by someone discarding a burned cigarette on theforest ground.

Even before the fire was extinguished, Cummings said he and his staff startedlooking for ways to restore the forest’s foliage. Last month, the DLNR had amassive volunteer tree seedling planting. Many of the plants survived the storm,but some did not.

Volunteers are still being sought for tree seedling plantings. To volunteer,call 808-873-3980.

Cummings said members of his division staff have been doing what they can toassess damage from the storm and clear the reserve’s entry and access road.

State officials don’t expect the Kula Forest Reserve to be ready for publicuse until the end of February, at the earliest.

“We appreciate the public’s patience and understanding, and we continueto ask for that,” Shishido said.

There were hundreds of pine trees, many of them as tall as 40 feet, uprootedby the winds of the Kona storm. Many of the trees fell into the access and entryroad to the reserve as well as parts of more than 16 miles of hiking trails. Inaddition, approximately 1? miles of a boundary fence that was being installed aspart of fire mitigation efforts were ruined by the storm because of fallen trees.Lastly, parts of a previous resurfaced road were washed out by mud and rain.

The cost of storm-related repairs to the Kula Forest Reserve is estimated atroughly $750,000, according to Cummings. The money would be used to rent heavyequipment and pay for materials and workers’ time to do the restoration andrepair jobs.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien