Saturday, May 14, 2005

3-day fire signals hot,
dry conditions

Brush fires are already at double
their usual occurrence this season

This year's first major brush fire, which ravaged 1,700 acres in Nanakuli Valley and a small portion of Lualualei Valley, was only one of more than 200 brush fires so far this year.

"That's twice as many as we're used to seeing by this time of year," said fire Capt. Emmit Kane.

Brush fire season normally starts in late May and lasts through mid-September, he said.

"Especially to have one this size this early in the season is unusual," Kane said. "So to a certain extent it's reflective of how dry things are already."

A wet winter causing an abundant growth of brush, dried out by the recent clear weather and a steady breeze, made conditions ripe for brush fires, Kane said.

The Honolulu Fire Department classifies most of this week's brush fires as suspicious.

Residents reported seeing suspicious activity by youths in the area, and police are following up on leads, Kane said.

Fire officials reported the Nanakuli fire, which began Tuesday, was contained and under control about 4 a.m. yesterday.

Ten fire companies worked six- to eight-hour shifts in Nanakuli Valley yesterday to knock out hot spots. Three helicopters made water drops.

Federal firefighters and a military helicopter also assisted in Lualualei yesterday.

The fires have threatened Nanakuli homes, though none were evacuated, as well as rare native animals and plants in the mountain areas.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Nature Conservancy and Army Natural Resources personnel also have been working to protect native forests, particularly the conservancy's Honouliuli Preserve.

Department staff saw native birds -- pueo (native owl) and elepaio -- flying around, an indication they were disturbed by the fire, spokeswoman Deborah Ward said.

The fire had moved Thursday into a small portion of the Nanakuli Forest Reserve.

But little to no native forest was affected, since the area is predominantly non-native plantation trees, Ward said.

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