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Ceremony blamed for blaze

HAENA — A fire-throwing ceremony on Makana mountain on Monday was being blamed for sparking the wildland fire still burning along the cliffs on the North Shore.

The blaze scorched about 100 acres between Haena State Park and Limahuli Gardens, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. It was declared 100 percent contained at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Haena State Park was closed overnight and DLNR representatives said the hope is to reopen the Kalalau Trail and the park today.

Community members conducted the ‘oahi, or or ancient traditional celebration that went awry Monday night, igniting the blaze, according to a statement from Presley Wann, president of Hui Maka’ainana o Makana, a Haena community group dedicated to restoring Native Hawaiian stewardship and practices.

The ‘oahi was performed to honor the return of the long-distance voyaging vessel Hokulea to Kauai.

Central to the ceremony are firebrands, or flaming embers, that were thrown specifically from Makana mountain and carried in wind currents through the night into the sea.

“In the process of reviving ancient practices, lessons are born out of unintended consequences,” Wann said in the statement. “The brush fire on Sept. 25 is an unfortunate example of this.”

DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife personnel and staff from the DLNR Division of State Parks are continuing to investigate the cause of the fire reported early Tuesday morning.

The ‘oahi is one of the ancient traditions being resurrected in Haena, and was performed in ancient times to celebrate things like graduations and honoring the transcendence of hula students to the status of kumu, or master.

It’s a practice being revived through piecing together from oral histories and from chants and dances.

“It will take some time before this practice can be fully restored,” Wann said. “A process that can only be accomplished by consulting elders, following protocols and awaiting proper environmental conditions.”

Most of the damage was centered in Limahuli Gardens, but was contained to a grove of invasive trees and hasn’t damaged any of the rare plants in the gardens, said Kawika Winter, director of the gardens.

“The fire burned through the underbrush and maybe one or two trees caught on fire,” Winter said. “It was almost like a controlled burn, where it clears out the leaf litter and dead branches.”

Light rain moved into the area on Wednesday morning, Winter said, which helped KFD efforts to suppress the flames.

“Some of the fire is still smoldering a bit on our property,” he said.

The gardens were closed Tuesday due to the smoke levels and Winter said it’s his understanding the smoke is the reason for Haena State Park and Kalalau Trail access closures as well.

All in all, Winter says he’s seeing the blaze as a blessing, because the invasive trees have taken hold in a place that was traditionally grassland.

“For many years people have come up to me and said those invasive trees have changed the look of Makana,” Winter said, “but it continues to grow.”

He continued: “I’m kind of looking at it like a positive. Maybe we can get the state’s help in dealing with these invasive trees.”

Early Wednesday, the fire was burning mostly along steep cliffs, making ground approaches for firefighters difficult, but 14 DOFAW firefighters were working hot spots. They were being supported by two engines and three DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources officers who were keeping people out of the area. Two helicopters were making water drops.

State park’s records show that on Wednesday, 26 people with camping permits were scheduled to leave Kalalau with 28 people arriving to hike into the valley.

Managers are determining a safe route to allow campers passage through areas where rock falls occur. The potential for those rock falls is increased due to steep and destabilized slopes in the wake of the fire, authorities said.

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