Leeward fire risk closes off dry forests
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All five state forest reserves in the Waianae Mountains and the Kuaokala game management area were indefinitely closed yesterday because of fire-prone conditions.
Forest reserves in Kuaokala, Mokuleia, Makua-Keaau, Waianae and Nanakuli will remain off limits to an estimated 200 hikers, campers and hunters who visit the sites on weekends, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resource.
The decision to shut the reserves came after two fires on the Leeward Coast, including one that came dangerously close to homes. Some areas in Waianae have gotten less than half the rainfall they usually receive by this time of year.
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Persistent dry weather and two recent fires on the Leeward Coast -- including one that scorched 1,000 acres and threatened homes -- prompted the state yesterday to close all five forest reserves in the Waianae Mountains.
Forest reserves in Kuaokala, Mokuleia, Makua-Keaau, Waianae and Nanakuli, as well as the Kuaokala game management area, will remain off limits to the estimated 200 hikers, campers and hunters who visit the sites on weekends, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
State officials will place fire equipment such as 250-gallon water tanks throughout the reserves over the weekend before deciding Monday whether to reopen them, said fire management officer Wayne Ching.
The shutdown of the reserves came a day after firefighters contained a fire that consumed 1,000 acres in Makaha Valley and came within a half-mile of three or four single-family homes in Mauna Olu Estates, a gated community.
Also, on Wednesday a worker with the DLNR's Division of Forestry put out a quarter-acre fire while he was clearing vegetation in the Kuaokala game management area, according to the state. A scheduled game bird hunt in Kuaokala set for the first weekend of November has been indefinitely suspended.
"Due to ongoing dry conditions and out of concern for public safety, we believe that the closure is in the best interest of the environment and its users," said interim Land Board Chairwoman Laura Thielen. "All fuels, such as grass, shrubs, bushes and trees, are turning into kindling in current droughtlike conditions."
Rainfall has been scarce on the Waianae Coast and in West Oahu, with Kalaeloa receiving just 4.05 inches of rain and Waianae Boat Harbor 5.53 inches so far this year -- less than half of what they usually get by this time.
Jonathan Hoag, forecaster with the National Weather Service, attributed the arid conditions to consistent tradewinds and a lack of significant cold fronts near Oahu.
"There hasn't been any decaying or dying tropical system or ... remnant tropical moisture passing over the islands, which would be a good source" of rain, he said, adding that hot and dry weather will likely last until at least the end of the month.
Jolie Moniz, director for Camp Timberline just above Makakilo, said the Palehua site operated by the nonprofit Kamaaina Kids will remain open daily despite the fire-prone conditions.
"It is very dry," she said. "We are always very cautious about the whole fire situation."
HOW DRY IT'S BEEN
A look at the amount of rain, in inches, on the Leeward Coast so far this year compared with the average:
Source: National Weather Service
||Year to date
||% of norm
|Waianae Boat Harbor