GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Forestry official Lance De Silva said the forest fire on Maui might be contained but is still dangerous. The state park at Polipoli remains closed. CLICK FOR LARGE
Maui firefighters contain blaze
KULA, Maui » On a muddy road cutting through burned pines and cypress along the slopes of Haleakala, state forestry resource official Lance De Silva looks for signs of danger, such as weakened tree trunks and barely-hanging tree limbs firefighters call "widow makers."
"They call them widow makers because these kinds of limbs have killed firefighters," he said.
While firefighters have contained a forest blaze that burned an estimated 1,700 to 1,800 acres in the Kula Forest Reserve, they are still seeing smoke from smoldering fires and occasionally hear a crack, followed by a loud boom, as a tree falls to the ground, officials said.
"You can feel the ground shake," said John Cumming, the state forestry manager on Maui.
Cumming said because of the potential for injury from various dangers, state officials have not reopened the state park at Polipoli.
Yesterday, a steady drizzle of rain fell on the road going to Polipoli, giving some relief to firefighters but halting helicopter drops of water due to limited visibility.
Where there was once a forest along the road leading to the state park, the trees left standing are burned to their trunks, with branches and the ground left dark and smoldering in places.
Firefighters are still guarding the 16-mile perimeter around some 2,291 acres and extinguishing hot spots.
Cumming and De Silva said firefighters have to be careful when walking because they could step into fiery pits covered by ground that seems strong on the surface but has been weakened because of the fire.
Cumming said a hiker on another island fell into a pit and was severely burned because he failed to heed forestry warnings.
Wildlife officials fear the fire has done significant damage to rare and endangered species of plants on Maui and reduced the chances of survival for the native Maui 'alauahio.
Duvall said he has not been up to the areas where the native species grow, but has received reports that the fire burned enclosures protecting native sandalwood and geranium.
"It suffered a very large population reduction," said state wildlife biologist Fern Duvall.
The fire also burned in areas where there are rare Hawaiian ferns, parsley and aster, but the extent of the damage remains unknown until conditions are safe for conducting a survey, he said.
"We just have to wait to go check it," Duvall said.
Forestry officials said that on a positive note, the fire burned away large areas of invasive alien species, including banana poka, and opened the forest canopy enough to start a new growth of plants.
County firefighters were notified about the forest blaze Jan. 23, and more than 60 state, county and federal firefighters helped to contain it.