Fires burning into helicopter budget

$45,000 is for search and rescue, tooBy LESTER CHANG

TGI Staff Writer

LIHU’E — The Kaua’i Fire Department has budgeted

$45,000 this year to cover the cost of search and rescue missions and

firefighting operations using helicopters.

Whether the funds are sufficient

won’t be known until the end of the fiscal year because “we don’t know how the

year will play out in terms of rescues and fires,” fire chief David Sproat


Kaua’i County contracts the services of Air-1 Inter-Island

Helicopters, a Hanapepe company, on a case-by-case basis, according to county

finance director Wallace Rezentes Jr.

Helicopters pick up water from

reservoirs or from the ocean and dump it on brush fires, augmenting the efforts

of firefighters on the ground.

Three helicopters – two from Air-1 and a

helicopter from the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility – played key roles in

fighting a brush fire last Sunday that blackened 100 acres near the Kaumuaali’i

Highway about one mile west of Halfway Bridge.

Had the helicopters not been

in operation, the fire could have forced the closure of the highway or caused

the disruption of telephone and electricity service by burning down utility

poles on the highway, officials said.

To reduce the use of civilian and

military helicopters to fight brush fires during the drought season, owners of

large, vacant lots should cut down high grass, Sproat said.

The property

owners should also maintain road access to their lots and within the lots where

fires may erupt, Sproat said.

“Landowners need to be on top of the

management of these lands,” Sproat said.

To help combat future brush fires,

the fire department will use a $55,000 grant from the state Department of Land

and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife to buy a

four-wheel-drive brush vehicle equipped with a mini pumper, a water tank and

other equipment.

Three brush fires occurred in Lihu’e, Puhi and Kipu over

the past week.

In the latest one, firefighters on Thursday put out residual

“hot spots” from a Tuesday fire that charred seven acres of grass in a valley

south of Kaumuali’i Highway and Puhi Bypass Road, said acting battalion chief

Myles Moriguchi.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681

(ext. 225) and


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