Maui brush fire still raging
Homes are spared as the blaze consumes up to 6,000 acres near precious forests
WAILUKU » State, federal and county firefighters were battling blazes yesterday that had burned an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 acres of brush land in the Kahikinui area in South Maui.
Most of the Hawaiian homesteaders who live in Kahikinui have voluntarily evacuated the area. Resident Donna Simpson said about a dozen homesteaders returned home yesterday afternoon to undamaged homes.
Firefighters have focused on preventing the fire from spreading toward homestead properties and forest reserve areas where there are endangered species.
The fire is burning in a remnant koa forest but has not spread mauka into endangered-species areas, said John Cumming, Maui branch manager for the state Forestry and Wildlife Division.
Cumming, who has 17 state workers fighting the blaze, said firefighters were able to halt the advance of the fire before it went into the sensitive portion of the forest.
Maui County Assistant Fire Chief Alan Pascua said yesterday that none of the homestead houses was burned, and firefighters were preventing the spread of the fire makai of Piilani Highway.
During periods of intense firefighting and water helicopter drops, officials closed Piilani Highway between mile posts 23 and 26 to nonresident traffic yesterday and Sunday.
Pascua said five separate fires were burning late Saturday night along Piilani Highway between Kahikinui Ranch and Manawainui Gulch.
He said some of the fires later combined as they advanced mauka.
Some 20 national park rangers from Maui and the Big Island were helping to fight the blaze.
Haleakala National Park spokesman Dominic Cardea said the rangers were making sure the blaze did not spread into park areas and using the firefighting as a training exercise.
Cardea said the rangers are also aware of the rare natural resources in the Kahikinui Forest Reserve and surrounding areas, including sandalwood and wiliwili trees.
"There are a number of rare plants in the area, especially in the dry-land forest," he said.
Some 75 Hawaiian homesteaders began settling in Kahikinui in 1999 under a state Hawaiian homestead program that promoted the preservation and regrowth of endangered native species.
Maui biologist Art Medeiros, coordinator of the Leeward Haleakala Watershed Partnership, said southern Haleakala has a koa forest rich in its diversity of native species.
"I just hope that the weather changes, the winds don't blow and they (the firefighters) get some rain," Medeiros said.