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Wildfire in Hawai?i Volcanoes National Park Continues to Burn, Threatens Native Bird Habitat

Mark Wasser
National Park Service

A brushfire continues to burn inside Hawai?i Volcanoes National Park, and now threatens critical habitat for the endangered ?i?iwi birds.

The fire started in Keauhou Ranch on August 5th, and crossed Mauna Loa Road into the park, moving west towards Kap?pala Ranch. 

National Park Service, Department of Land and Natural Resources, and County of Hawai?i firefighters are continuing efforts to control the blaze. They were aided yesterday by two inches of rain that fell yesterday and overnight. Officials say some of the fire's interior has been suppressed.

Crews are working to get an accurate estimate of containment and verifying the exact acreage affected. As of Thursday, the fire has scorched nearly 3,700 acres, growing another 470 acres on August 8th. On Thursday, officials said the fire is roughly a mile north of Highway 11.

Fire crews have prevented the spread of the fire into the K?puka K? Special Ecological Area in Hawai?i Volcanoes National Park, and have also reduced the spread towards the Volcano Golf Course community. Crews used chainsaws and hand tools to remove dry vegetation from a rugged uneven old ?a?? lava flow bordering K?puka K?, improving the natural barrier. Crews also used five-gallon water backpacks and coordinated aerial water drops to battle the flames.

Credit M. Wasser / National Park Service
National Park Service
Fire plume visible from Mauna Loa Road, above Kipukua Ki.

Plumes of smoke are visible from Highway 11, and motorists are urged to drive with caution, roll up windows, and use air conditioning if possible. Officials say motorists should stop for emergencies only.

Strong winds and dry conditions at the fire's 4,800 foot elevation have made it hard for firefighters to control the blaze with a direct attack of spraying water and making fire breaks. No homes or structures are at risk, and no injuries have been reported. Crews are investigating hte cause of the fire.

Park officials say the fire has consumed more than 1,500 acres of native koa forest - which is important for endangered and endemic species like the Hawaiian hawk, owl and bat.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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