DLNR Press Release – Hawaii Island Wildfire Mostly Contained, August 17, 2022
Posted on August 17, 2022 in Current Department News, Newsroom
(Waikōloa, Island of Hawaii) – Just south of Waikōloa village, the resort area, and the mauka of Highway 190 near the Puu Lani subdivision, a 17,000-acre wildfire has left a charred landscape. That’s 26.5 square miles of burnt land that dozens of firefighters, supported by heavy equipment and air forces, worked for a week to extinguish. Today they were able to contain the fire by 90 percent.
“It’s possible we could see another flare-up of this fire, because that’s what started it in the first place. The federal fire brigade of the Pōhakuloa Training Area (PTA) extinguished a fire here for the first time three weeks ago. We believe hot spots were dormant underground and then high winds whipped them up into a big fire, we’ve all been fighting for the past week,” explained Lt. Col. Kevin Cronin, the PTA commander.
Steve Bergfeld, a veteran wilderness firefighter and Hawaii Island Branch Manager for DLNR’s Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), said, “The DOFAW firefighters, along with PTA, Hawai’i Fire Department (HFD) and National Park Service (NPS) teams found it difficult to slow the fire initially due to high winds, the presence of highly flammable and fire-adapted jumping grass, and difficult terrain and access. We will continue to monitor the fire, but smoldering and unburned pockets of fuel in the firebreaks will continue to burn until we receive adequate rain.”
Bergfeld added: “Without a small army of eight private bulldozers contracted by the state and one bulldozer from the Department of Public Works, this fire would have grown much larger. The fire lines cut by bulldozers are designed to remove the fire from propellants to stop its spread. More often than not, line crews then fire backwards from the firebreaks to further eliminate fuel.
At its most active point, the work on the ground was supported by five US Army helicopters requested by PTA, the two helicopters by HFD and a private aircraft contracted by DOFAW.
With the capacity to submerge between 80 and 1000 gallons of water per flight (depending on aircraft type) and transport it directly to where the fire burned hottest, the “air assets” provide a variety of other services during a firefight.
Don Yokoyama, a DOFAW protection ranger, was one of the fire managers who relied on overflights of the fire, usually every morning and then again in the evening, to check its behavior and use GPS and other tools to determine size and containment estimates.
“As the chief of the fire operations department, the overflights allow me to learn the current and expected firing behavior of the fire. This information is critical to placing and rerouting firefighters, aircraft and heavy equipment to strategic locations where they can efficiently and effectively suppress fire while still being safe,” Yokoyama said.
“We are fortunate to have one of our helicopters stationed about a 7-minute flight from its base on Highway 90,” said HFD chief Kazuo Todd. “So strong is our firefighting partnership on the Island of Hawai’i that we are accustomed to using any means available to suppress wildfires. Planes are such valuable tools – they drop water, can be used for medivac to assess the spread, behavior and size of fire; and as a platform from which to provide photos and videos of fires. Visuals are in high demand to communicate fire information.”
Almost immediately, a unified command structure was established to manage the Leilani fire, with command responsibility shared by the leaders of DOFAW, PTA, and HFD. “During a firefight, the appropriate authority takes the lead. This fire was subject to both PTA and DOFAW jurisdiction. Bergfeld commented, “When there is a fire, our full focus is on putting out the fire to protect private property, natural resources and life,” he said.
While they say the fire is mostly “contained,” they’re not ready to call it “controlled.” Incident commanders want to be as sure as possible that the fire will be out this time.
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(All images/videos courtesy: DLNR)
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