GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Passers-by Dana Ritchie, left, and Candace Chase poured bottled water on a felled ironwood tree along Kaukonahua Road near Poamoho that continued to burn on Wednesday afternoon following the containment of a brush fire that had at that point been burning for two days and consumed some 6,700 acres.
Fire exacts environmental toll
In addition to farmers' losses, endangered plants are torched
Rancher Bob Cherry is trying to be optimistic about recovering from the Waialua fire, but it's not easy.
The 5-day-old blaze burned three-quarters of his Flying R Ranch's 3,300 acres of leased pastureland and did $600,000 damage to fencing and other physical improvements, he said.
"I've already cried," Cherry said yesterday as fire flared again not far from his home.
The Flying R Ranch is just one of the agricultural and environmental casualties from the fire.
Waialua fruit and vegetable farmers face varying degrees of damage to crops and equipment. The University of Hawaii's Poamoho Agricultural Experiment Station must replace ruined irrigation lines or lose test crops.
The fire also damaged at least eight species of threatened and endangered plants in the Waianae Mountains, including 600 yellow hibiscus plants, the largest wild population of Hawaii's state flower (ma'o hau hele) and two kinds of native hardwood trees -- uhiuhi (Caesalpinia kavaiensis) and kauila (Colubrina oppositifolia), which ancient Hawaiians used to make weapons and tools.
"These threatened and endangered plants are the last of their kind, and a lot of them do have cultural significance," said Schofield Barracks spokeswoman Stefanie Gardin.
Army Natural Resources Program staff shared their detailed maps of key endangered populations to direct strategic helicopter water drops on the fire, said biologist Kapua Kawelo.
Army natural resources staff also helped stomp out smoldering vegetation at Kaena Point State Park on Wednesday, where a separate fire burned 300 acres, including plantings of endangered native plants, Kawelo said.
The fire did not reach the more pristine Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve, where Laysan albatrosses and wedge-tailed shearwater birds nest, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The Waialua fire burned about 1,000 acres of state land in the Mokuleia Forest Reserve and lower portions of the Kaala Natural Area Reserve. But last night, fire had not entered the nearby Kuaokala Forest Reserve or the Pahole Natural Area Reserve, said DLNR spokeswoman Debbie Ward.
At the UH Poamoho Agricultural Research Station, 80 percent of test crops cannot be watered because of fire-damaged irrigation lines, research technician Tom Miyashiro said. "If we don't get water in a week, they will be stunted," he said.
"Grass fires are not insignificant," said Al Santoro, who lost up to $7,000 worth of tropical fruits at his 7-acre organic farm.
Cherry, co-owner of the Flying R Ranch, wondered aloud yesterday if people who start fires -- intentionally or accidentally -- realize the havoc their actions cause.
But Cherry also stressed his gratitude to all the firefighters, friends and strangers who helped in this time of need. "I want to thank all my friends," he said. "It's wonderful."