LUMAHAI-A foot-deep layer of pine needles fueled a smoldering fire that burned five acres in Lumahai before it was finally contained after a weekend of firefighting.
Residents may still see wisps of smoke rising from the area, but the fire shouldn’t blaze up again, fire officials said.
“I think someone just didn’t put out their fire very well,” said Hanalei Capt. Jay Peters. Fire personnel said that someone probably used the unmarked trail to go fishing or for an unobstructed view of the ocean, and might have set a fire for cooking their catch.
About 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24, three firefighters from the Hanalei Fire Department responded to a hilly parcel on the makai side just west of the Lumaha’i River and bridge. The cause of the fire, which ignited mostly pine needles and underbrush, is still undetermined.
The area is covered with Australian pine trees, also known as ironwoods, and the ground is blanketed with pine needles more than a foot deep. When the thread-like leaves burn, they burn fast and can reach quite high temperatures (about 1000F). They are light enough to be carried by the wind, spreading the fire, Peters added.
A Lihue firefighter called the incident another day’s work, but did say that the full-day operations were tiring. Capt. Peters agreed, explaining the dirty, gritty ash and soot got in the men’s eyes and all over everything all weekend.
The fire was dangerous, Peters said, because the terrain is so steep. Safety ropes were connected to trees and other firefighters to make sure no one fell down the hill. Another safety concern was of logs catching on fire and rolling down the hill after the pine needles burned away.
There were no injuries, but Peters said the incident was dangerous for everybody, including the public.
According to Battalion Chief Ernest Moniz, Interisland Helicopters was contracted on Saturday evening to drop about 10-15,000 gallons of water collected from the Lumaha’i River, but operations were halted due to darkness at about 8 p.m.
Eight people on crews from Hanalei and Lihue dug a firebreak — a ditch on each side of the fire about 75 feet long and about 1-1/2 feet deep — to contain the fire until Sunday morning, Peters said.
Eight personnel from Lihu’e and Hanalei returned at about 7 a.m. and they continued the helicopter water drops. But this time they had an extra tanker from the Lihu’e Fire Station, brought to the scene by an off-duty operator to transport water from a fire hydrant in Hanalei. Actually, the closest hydrant is near Wainiha General Store but they aren’t allowed to drive over the Wainiha bridge with a full charge of water, Peters said.
By 5:15 p.m. Sunday firefighters headed back to their stations, and rains that night helped extinguish it further; but personnel continued monitoring the area as late as Tuesday afternoon to make sure that smoldering tree stumps and embers were extinguished.
Peters said that people should always take care in setting and putting out cooking fires, wherever the location. First, clear the area for the fire. Place rocks in a circle to make sure the fire doesn’t spread beyond the intended area. Make sure to bring enough water to put out the fire. Covering a fire with dirt can work, but charcoal will stay hot and could spread the fire. If the wind picks up, the fire could rekindle and crawl, as it apparently did in this case. If a fire gets out of control, always call the fire department from the nearest telephone or callbox.
Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at email@example.com or 245-3681 (ext. 252).