Members of Malama Makua gathered in prayer yesterday before entering the military-controlled Makua Valley. The military held a news conference in response to concerns over a fire that burned out of control on July 22.

Army admits
Makua failure

Officials vow to consider methods
besides fire to find ordnance
and keep cultural sites open


Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2003

>> The first name of Gayland Enriques, deputy fire chief for U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, was misspelled as Gaylan on Page A1 Monday..

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The Army admitted yesterday that its controlled burn operation in Makua Valley last month was a "failure," and said it would re-examine its fire procedures and consider other methods of clearing vegetation.

"From a fire management standpoint, yes, it was a failure," said Gaylan Enriques, deputy fire chief for U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, in a meeting for community members at the Makua Military Reservation.

Many who attended the meeting called on the Army to leave Makua.

The army "robbed and stole mana from our cultural sites," said William Aila of the citizens group Malama Makua. "They can train somewhere else. They really don't need Makua."

According to Enriques, the original purpose for the controlled burn on July 22 was to clear 900 acres of vegetation so the Army could locate unexploded ordnance and clear pathways to cultural sites.

But a dramatic change in wind speed and direction carried the fire to brush outside the designated burn area and scorched 2,100 acres, Enriques said.

Prescribed fire is a management tool to control fuel buildup, Enriques said.

It is also a way to "control access to cultural sites," he added, which is a condition of a settlement agreement between Malama Makua and the Army.

Malama Makua sued the Army in 1998, seeking to end live-fire training in Makua Valley. The Army says Makua is essential as a training area for troops. As a result of the lawsuit, the Army was not able to train in the valley from September 1998 to October 2001, when the agreement was reached.

The settlement states that the Army can train in Makua Valley if it meets certain conditions.

One condition is that the Army allow public access into the valley for cultural purposes.

"For public safety," the Army needs to clear out unexploded ordnance, according to Enriques, "but the only way to do that is to remove all vegetation."

"The Army will continue to use prescription fires to get rid of vegetation," he said. However, it will look at other measures like cattle grazing, vegetation cutting and herbicides as alternatives.

Eric Brundage, the Army specialist for unexploded ordnance, said some alternatives are "more expensive, more time-consuming and sometimes more hazardous to those working."

Though the fire destroyed 2,100 acres of brush, including 71 endangered plants, the fire did not cause much damage to the cultural and archaeological sites in the valley, according to Laurie Lucking, Army cultural resources manager.

"Damage to cultural sites was minimal," Lucking said. "Many of the sites were simply skipped. The fire either went around them or over them."

Lucking said the constant maintenance of vegetation around the sites might account for the sites being "relatively untouched by the fire."

She also mentioned that "a number of archaeological and agricultural sites which we didn't know about before" were uncovered by July's burn.

The fire "accomplished its goals in terms of archaeology," Lucking said.

Members of Malama Makua do not see it that way.

"Bottom line is, it's desecration, no matter how we look at it," said Butch Detroy.

"The Army needs to stop. It needs to get out," said Detroy, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Army for three years.

Former Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee and Malama Makua member Frenchy DeSoto also called for the Army to pull out. "It's virtually impossible at this point to trust the military. I say that with regret, but enough is enough," she said.

But Waianae resident Albert Silva disagreed, saying that the Army takes care of the land because it has the funding to do so.

This valley has seen a multitude of fires over the years, according to Silva, who traces his family roots in Waianae back 200 years.

"The plants were here before, they're still here now and they're gonna be here in the future," he said.

"The plants will come back, I guarantee it. What worries me is, if land is given back to the state, who's gonna maintain it like the Army?" he said. "Who's got deeper pockets than the U.S. Army?"


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