4,000-acre blaze torches
woodland at Big Island park

HILO >> Fire raced Wednesday through 4,000 acres of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, destroying some of the park's most prized rain forest east of Chain of Craters Road, park officials said yesterday.

"It literally exploded," park Superintendent Jim Martin said.

"Half of the East Rift Special Ecological Area burned, and the remainder is threatened," said park vegetation specialist Rhonda Loh.

Yesterday the fire did little additional damage.

"Today we had a lot more clouds. If we get a little rain, we'll be in good shape," Martin said.

But a written statement from the park said no rain and clear weather are forecast for the next 10 days.

The cause of the fire was lava flows, but bone-dry conditions made the flare-up possible.

Ranger Jim Gale said the term "rain forest" suggests wet conditions, but the relative humidity there had dropped to an extraordinarily low 7 percent.

Ironically, a major portion of the burn area had been burned last year. Decaying vegetation on the forest floor, of which the top two inches burned last year, burned still deeper this year, Martin said.

Charred tree skeletons left from last year caught fire and burned again, Gale said. Acid rain from the Puu Oo vent's fumes also killed vegetation, leaving it ready for fire, he said.

A 2-mile swath along Kilauea's east rift was in flames, Martin said.

Fortunately, firefighters saw dangerous conditions coming at noon Wednesday and pulled back, leaving just helicopter water drops to fight the blaze, Martin said.

The park expects to use 45 firefighters and four helicopters today to prevent a flare-up.

Although some areas burned down to "mineral soil," the fire left a mosaic of good vegetation in other areas, Martin said. Those and replantings by plant specialist Loh hold hopes of restoring the area, he said.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park


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