Fire burns rare Koke‘e plants

The intended signal fire that turned into an uncontrolled blaze in Koke‘e State Park Friday afternoon was contained after about five hours by Department of Land and Natural Resources firefighters with the help of the Air-1 helicopter and remained out yesterday morning, according to Inter-Island Helicopters pilot Ken D’Attilio.

“It was pretty serious when I flew up on it. It was burning off in two different directions,” D’Attilio said yesterday. He noted many rare, native plants were consumed in the fire.

The fire was originally set intentionally by a missing person attempting to draw attention to his plight and attract rescuers. The missing person, described as a male in his 20s by a another representative of Inter-Island Helicopters, went up into the Sugi Grove area of Koke‘e on Thursday in search of maile, a vine used for special occasions, according to county spokeswoman Mary Daubert.

When the man did not return as originally planned, he was reported missing Friday at around noon, Daubert said. Four Kaua‘i Fire Department personnel responded in Engine 7 and Truck 7, with Rescue 3 from Lihu‘e also en route, but Air-1 saw the man while conducting some airlifts in the area and picked him up along with his dog.

After dropping the man and dog off at the Hanapepe hangar, Air-1 then returned to Koke‘e to execute water drops in conjunction with the DLNR’s Forestry and Wildlife branch, according to spokeswoman Debbie Ward.

D’Attilio said three state firefighters assisted by cutting down smoldering trees so that he could dump additional water on them.

Ward described the fire’s location as being a mile south of the swamp trail in a difficult-to-access area. The terrain in the area is flat, swampy, and the fire was burning in a native plant community of auwe, Ward said.

DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers were investigating. The identity of the maile gatherer has yet to be released.

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