Kauai dry spell is resulting in flare-up of fires
Firefighters battled 15 brush fires this month and are worried about New Year's Eve
LIHUE » Kauai firefighters have been responding to a record number of brush fires this month, and six brush fires in just the past four days.
Kauai Fire Chief Robert Westerman said an extreme dry spell is to blame for the flare-ups all over the Garden Isle.
"We've been drying out over the past few months," Westerman said yesterday in a meeting with reporters. "It wouldn't take much for a fire to spread rapidly, given the current conditions."
The majority of the 15 brush fires put out this month have been along the side of the highways, started by errant cigarettes or even fireworks, or by landowners burning weeds or rubbish.
They have been quickly put out by one truck and a couple hundred gallons of water, the chief said.
One, however, on Christmas Day, did contribute to the death of 20-year-old Jonathan D'Attilio, a helicopter pilot who was helping firefighters douse a Lihue fire when his chopper crashed. The cause of that fire is still under investigation.
And with the New Year's holiday coming up quickly, Westerman urges residents to keep grass short in open areas and be careful with fireworks and firecrackers.
It is likely to be an average year for firecracker permits on the Garden Isle, with about 150 already picked up and about 300 expected before Sunday.
But even sparklers handled improperly can cause trouble for the KFD, he said.
While no fires were reported last year due to fireworks on Kauai, torrential rain helped keep people safe.
Mother Nature, though, is not helping out this year, with the driest month on record so far.
In fact, it rained nearly 70 times more on New Year's Eve 2004 and New Year's Day than it has on Kauai all month. Over the two-day period bringing in 2005, Lihue Airport received 7.58 inches of rain. So far this month, the airport has received a little more than one-tenth of an inch, according to the National Weather Service.