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Fire threatens preserve, forest lands


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POSTED: Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Ashes continued to fall outside, and the smell of smoke lingered in Kim Tempo's house.

But she was grateful her home at Pano Place in central Molokai was spared from a brush fire now into its third day.

“;It came right behind my house,”; Tempo said.

State and county firefighters continued yesterday to battle the stubborn blaze, which was spreading on multiple fronts westward and north into forest and watershed areas mauka of Kalamaula and Kaunakakai, fanned by gusts reported at 13 mph.

The fire had burned an estimated 7,800 acres since it began about noon Saturday.

Except for a garage and an abandoned structure, firefighters along with volunteers have saved dozens of houses.

Efforts were focused yesterday on cutting firebreaks in mountainous areas in Makakupaia State Forest and at the Kamakou Preserve.

;[Preview]  Molokai Brushfire Rages On
 

Over 70 county and state firefighters are still battling a large brush fire on Molokai burning for its third day.

Watch ]

 

“;We want to stop the fire from going further into forest areas,”; said Glenn Shishido, a state forestry official. “;It's still unpredictable. ... The wind directions are variable.”;

Shishido said the Makakupaia forest has native shrubs and trees including kukui, but no endangered species.

At Kamakou the situation is quite different, with at least 219 of some 250 Hawaiian plants found nowhere else in the world, according to the Nature Conservancy.

The group, part of a Natural Area Partnership Program, said the lush rain forest is also home to countless native insects, supporting an array of birds, including the apapane and pueo, the Hawaiian owl.

The forest was the last place sightings were made of the Molokai thrush, or oloma'o, and Molokai creeper, or kakawahie.

Shishido said yesterday evening that the fire had gone into the Makakupaia, and he believed the fire also moved into Kamakou, but he did not know its impact.

Conservancy spokesman Grady Timmons said the fire had entered the southwest corner of the preserve, and his group hopes to have a clearer picture of the situation by noon today.

“;We believe at this time it is among the pine stands located in that area of the preserve and has not yet affected any native resources,”; Timmons said.

County Civil Defense Administrator Gen Iinuma said firefighters on the ground were attacking the blaze around the clock and trying to control the flare-ups. About 70 county and state firefighters were involved yesterday, along with five helicopters, seven bulldozers and five water tankers.

“;Our crews are doing an outstanding job, and we truly appreciate the great support from the people and businesses of Molokai,”; said Fire Chief Jeff Murray. “;So many have come forward to offer whatever help they can provide, including dropping off food for our firefighters and support personnel. We want them to know that we're grateful for their generosity and can't thank them enough.”;

Kaunakakai Elementary, Molokai Middle School and Molokai High School were to reopen today, after being closed yesterday because of hazardous road conditions created by the fire. Kualapuu Elementary Public Charter School was expected to decide this morning on whether to reopen today.

The county's Cooke Memorial swimming pool remained closed while it was being used as a water source for helicopters conducting aerial drops.

Helicopter flights, ceased at nightfall, were expected to resume today at daylight.

The Red Cross closed an emergency shelter yesterday at the Mitchell Pauole Community Center.

Dozens of other residents, facing roadblocks because of the fire, returned home after most spent the night with relatives and friends.

Aside from one firefighter who was treated for smoke inhalation on Saturday, no injuries have been reported.

The cause of the fire is unknown.

Tempo said a similar fire occurred before, and she believes firebreaks should have been created earlier by a nearby major landowner to make sure fires did not come so close to her and her neighbors' homes.

“;Like every other property owner, they should be responsible,”; she said.