Blaze engulfs 50 acres in Wainiha

What began as burning trash on the North Shore quickly turned into a nightmare scorching 50-plus acres. It took firefighters eight hours to extinguish it yesterday morning.

The fire was started Saturday night by Wainiha resident Ray “Kuna” Harada, Jr., county officials said.

Harada was cited for illegal burning after he admitted to police officers that he was burning rubbish when the fire got out of control.

The property’s co-owner, Keith Robinson, said he was disheartened and angry over the loss.

“It’s my personal opinion that there was absolutely no cause to be burning rubbish in that particular area,” Robinson said.

“I plan to look a little further into trespassing charges.”

Firefighters received a call around 6 p.m. Saturday informing them of a brush fire that began on private land owned on the mauka side of Wainiha Powerhouse Road.

Rescue specialists from the Hanalei, Kapa‘a and Lihu‘e fire stations responded to the fire, said Mary Daubert, county spokeswoman.

Around 7 p.m., an Inter Island helicopter assisted the Kaua‘i Fire Department by making water drops.

The fire was extinguished around 2 a.m. yesterday morning, Daubert said.

After a long day of pounding fence posts, Robinson, 65, was called out by his brother and arrived on-scene around midnight to see the blaze firsthand, he said.

“I dashed over to Wainiha and then climbed up a mountain in the middle of the night, carrying a backpack with water,” he said, emphasizing that by assisting the firefighters, he was merely “helping polish off the last remnants” of the work the KFD had already completed.

“The fire department did a fantastic job,” Robinson said. “I never would have expected them to be able to stretch hoses all the way to the 300- or 400-foot level.”

Working in the dark, firefighters used flashlights and dragged fire hoses roughly one-half mile up the mountain, Acting Battalion Chief Bill Quinlan said.

Emergency crews included off-duty firefighters who relieved those who had been fighting the fire for hours.

Robinson, who fought a larger fire on the same property in the mid-1970s, said had stronger winds been present, he believes yesterday’s blaze would have been far worse.

The previous fire on the same property was caused by a downed powerline, he said.

“This time, things were a lot tamer,” he said.

“If a tradewind had been blowing powerfully instead of the quiet wind we had, that fire would have engulfed some of the rarest plants in Hawai‘i. It was going up to the upper cliffs which has extremely rare vegetation.”

Thankfully, Robinson added, a rainstorm hit early yesterday morning, about 40 minutes after fire department left, guaranteeing the flames wouldn’t flare up.

“It soaked everything,” he said. “Although it would have been nice if it had come four hours earlier.”

No structures were damaged in the fire, according to county officials.

“(My brother) Bruce and I would like to express our deepest thanks to the Kaua‘i Fire Department for its extremely skilled, aggressive and efficient work,” Robinson said. “It was brilliant considering the terrain, which is very steep.”

• Amanda C. Gregg, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or agregg@kauaipubco.com.

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