Army unsure if
Makua fire will affect
training of troops
bound for Afghanistan

The Army says it won't know until next month whether last week's wildfire in Makua Valley will affect the training of 3,500 Schofield Barracks soldiers scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in February.

Meanwhile, federal biologists have determined the fire, which burned nearly half of Makua Valley, destroyed several endangered plants but did not harm any animals.

Maj. Stacy Bathrick, Army spokeswoman, said the Army will again work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine the impact of last week's brush fire on the more than 40 endangered plants and animals and their habitats.

Bathrick said she didn't know how long this process would take and whether live-fire training would be suspended while it was being conducted.

The Army has been allowed to fire weapons in Makua under a 2001 federal court settlement while it prepares an environmental impact statement.

Bathrick said the 2nd Brigade, which will be the first Schofield unit to be sent to Afghanistan for six months, is not scheduled to run any type of company-size live-fire exercise in the 4,190-acre Makua Military Reservation this summer.

She said the 25th Infantry Division's training schedule for October through December won't be finalized until sometime next month.

The 25th Division's 3rd Brigade with another 3,500 soldiers is supposed to replace the 2nd Brigade sometime next summer.

Biologists determined during visits to the valley this week that while some habitat suitable for the elepaio was burned, it was not occupied by birds, said Barbara Maxwell, Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman. They also were able to confirm the Army's earlier assertions that Oahu tree snails were not harmed by the blaze, she said.

The news is not as good for the endangered plants in the valley. A number of plants from three species were destroyed by the fire, Maxfield said. They are kulu'i (Nototrichium humile), 'akoko (Chamaesyce celastroides var. kaenana) and nehe (Lipochaeta tenuifolia).

While "any loss is significant to a botanist," none of the species will go extinct because of the fire, Maxfield said.

The Army on July 22 had planned on burning only 500 acres of brush to clear it of ordnances and create easier access to cultural and historical sites. However, winds fanned the blaze and destroyed nearly 2,200 acres. The Army has said that it was able to contain the blaze once the winds in the valley switched directions. It will brief community leaders on the fire on Sunday.

Earthjustice has called for the renewal of consultations between the Army and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Reporter Diana Leone contributed to this report.


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