Monday, August 20, 2007

Carelessness contributes to blazes

by Amanda C. Gregg - THE GARDEN ISLAND,

With roughly 322.5 acres lost in 12 brush fires within the past 22 days, negligence, controlled burns and weather have been named by officials as the likely causes.

Officials with the fire department estimate that roughly half of the county’s 52 brush fires they have responded to this year have been caused by tossed cigarette butts.

The most recent, significant brush fire consumed roughly 30 acres of brush and 10 acres of the Hule‘ia National Wildlife Refuge Sunday and Monday. The fire began Sunday night in the vicinity of Halehaka Road in Puhi around 11:45 p.m. That blaze was deemed fully extinguished by 4 p.m., Monday, according to the fire department.

Fire officials and police are investigating the cause of that and 10 other significant brush fires that have ignited the island since June 20.

A 1/2 acre fire that set off an alarm around 11:42 a.m. Monday on the Westside in Makaweli Valley was extinguished by firefighters by 12:54 p.m., Mary Daubert, county spokeswoman, said. That fire began after an agricultural burn got out of control.

According to Fire Chief Robert Westerman, a taro farmer was following proper procedure for a controlled burn, however, wind caused an errant ember to further ignite the fire.

Water relief from Inter-Island Helicopter’s Air-1 was temporarily taken off the Puhi brush fire and assigned to the Makaweli fire along with firefighters from the Waimea fire station.

According to county officials, none of the fires since June 20 has caused any injuries.

But the fires have consumed a large amount of land and man-hours, Roy Asher, assistant police chief, said.

“These kind of fires are senseless and put our firefighters at needless risk,” he said.

Though the Puhi fire had been deemed under control by 4 p.m. Monday, six firefighters from the Lihu‘e fire station and six firefighters on call-back duty returned yesterday around 7 a.m. to extinguish hot spots for the Puhi fire, Daubert said.

Though neither lives nor structures were threatened by the Puhi fire, 8 to 10 acres burned in the upper Hule‘ia National Wildlife Refuge, Mike Hawkes, refuge manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Fisheries, said.

Endangered species such as the Hawaiian stilt, coot, moorhen and duck weren’t threatened or forced to relocate because of the fire, he said, noting some native birds might have been displaced, a slight silver lining for the refuge.

“We consider non-native lowland birds to be pests, actually,” Hawkes said. “They take up the habitat.”

Having seen his share of forest fires, Hawkes — who has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Kaua‘i for five years also worked in the same capacity on the Mainland for 30 years — said he was grateful much of the 240-acre refuge was spared.

In places such as Arizona and Alaska, he had seen as much as 25 percent of 20,000-acre refuges burn, he said.

According to the state Department of Health, agricultural burning is allowed by permit only, under the discretion of that government agency.

The DOH also requires that residents only burn brush from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., at a minimum of 50 feet away from any structure or brush-covered area.

Fires also must be constantly attended by a competent adult, and an attached garden hose or other fire-extinguishing equipment must be on hand. The amount to be burned must be a maximum of 25 pounds for a family of four.

Burning waste isn’t permitted. Any odor adversely affecting neighbors is cause for it to be extinguished.

• Amanda C. Gregg, assistant editor/staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or

The Garden Island
Copyright © 2007, Lee Enterprises, Inc.

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