Big Isle fires
get outside aid

Mainland firefighters will help
fight blazes that were sparked
by recent lava flows

By Diana Leone

Chain of Craters Road and all east rift trails remain closed today and 80 firefighters are arriving from the mainland to help fight the 16-day-old Kupukupu Fire in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Over the last three days hot, dry and windy conditions helped the fire to flare up, the National Park Service said. Since Thursday, the fire has burned more than 1,700 additional acres, most of that on Friday afternoon, said Jack Minassian, the park fire management officer.

The wildfire started May 17 from a hot lava flow southwest of the Pu'u O'o vent. It burned 880 acres of parkland over two days before subsiding under mostly overcast and rainy skies with low winds.

The fire is burning in an area of kupukupu (swordferns), uluhe (false staghorn ferns) and tall ohia trees, park ranger Mardie Lane said yesterday. The fire moves easily through this type of woodland, the park service said in a press release.


Total area destroyed by fire as of nightfall yesterday was about 2,588 acres, Lane said. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses 217,000 acres.

"We have this moving and molten ignition source," she said, "with lava flowing with multiple fronts. The chance for more flare-ups and lava-ignited fires remains."

Firefighting members of the park staff created a "blackline" of intentionally burned land Tuesday on Pulama Pali west of the lava flows and fire and expanded it yesterday. It's hoped the blackline areas, which are about 100 feet wide, would stop the fire's spread in that direction, Minassian said.

Six helicopter pilots worked to slow the fire's spread yesterday with air drops of water and foam.

The fire came closer than a half-mile from Chain of Craters road near the hairpin turn at the 11-mile marker Friday, forcing its closure at 4 p.m. The road remains closed at Pauahi Crater, four miles from the Crater Rim Drive intersection, until further notice.

Also closed are the Napau, Na Ulu and Kalapana trails.

Weather on Friday and yesterday favored fire, with low humidity, clear skies and wind gusting to 37 mph, Lane said.

Expected today are fire crews from Prescott and Pleasant Valley, Ariz., and Dalton and Arrowhead, Calif., with a total of 80 "highly trained, highly skilled men and women who fight fire 100 percent of the time," Lane said. The Arrowhead group works for the National Park Service and the other three crews are with the U.S. Forest Service.

Those firefighters will work alongside local firefighters who are familiar with the volcanic terrain. Minassian said conditions may become safe enough to send firefighters in to battle the fire on the ground, which has been impossible for safety reasons in the past few days.

No structures are threatened, he said. "What's threatened is native rainforest, to the northwest -- that's what the helicopter will be working on tomorrow."

"There's no way to predict how long the fire may burn on," Lane said. "We'll continue to do whatever we can to protect the forest."

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