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Hawaiian homesteaders sue Parker Ranch for 2021 Waimea wildfire

A photo of the 2021 Mana Road Fire near Waimea by the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources
A photo of the 2021 Mana Road Fire near Waimea by the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources.

A pending legal case on the Big Island centers on burned land, Hawaiian Homesteads and responsibility. A group of homestead leaseholders has sued Parker Ranch, seeking remediation of land destroyed by the 2021 Mana Road Fire.

Bridget Morgan-Bickerton, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said the wildfire started with a spark from a contractor hired to do work on Parker Ranch’s property.

"I think the Hawaiʻi Fire Department report relays that the contractor who called to report the fire described that it probably went from covering a 20-by-20-foot area to about 10 acres just during the call that he had made to the fire department," Morgan-Bickerton said.

When the blaze spread to neighboring farms and ranches, it burned hot enough to make the soil unusable for growing crops and uninhabitable for livestock, she said.

"Their lives were really turned upside down from this. And to this day they suffer from the dust. The dust is a huge problem that resulted from the fire and they live with dust every single day," Morgan-Bickerton said.

"The dust is suffocating, and our clients live with this every single day with kids. They're inhaling this, they're breathing it and something, something really does need to be done to restore that land," she told The Conversation. "Cattle can't graze, people can't use the land like they did before. And our clients are looking to be able to use their lands in the way that they used to."

The 2021 Mana Road Fire was the biggest wildfire in Hawai‘i Island history, burning more than 40,000 acres and claiming two homes.

HPR reached out to Parker Ranch for comment. A post on their Facebook page said, “Parker Ranch does not comment on threatened or pending litigation.”

"I don't think anyone in our group of plaintiffs is trying to get wealthy off of this. They're not trying to bankrupt Parker Ranch, they just, they would like to be restored to the position they were in before this all happened," Morgan-Bickerton said.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Dec. 20, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Russell Subiono is the executive producer of The Conversation and host of HPR's This Is Our Hawaiʻi podcast. Born in Honolulu and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, he’s spent the last decade working in local film, television and radio. Contact him at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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