Group says Makua fire
damaged cultural sites


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

» William Aila of the Makua valley support group Malama Makua said the Army reported that "many cultural sites, including a heiau, weren't damaged" by a brush fire last week. A story on Page A3 in yesterday's morning edition incorrectly quoted Aila as saying that the Army said many sites were burnt.

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Makua Valley activists are disputing claims by the Army that none of the 41 cultural or historical sites in the Leeward Oahu military training area was damaged by last week's brush fire.

William Aila, a spokesman for Malama Makua, said that about 30 people on Saturday inspected some of the 300 acres that were scorched in Wednesday's blaze.

Under a 2001 court agreement, Malama Makua, which has been opposing Army use of the valley, is allowed access to the 4,190-acre valley on a regular basis.

"They reported that many cultural sites, including a heiau, were burnt," Aila added.

"The Army believes that just (because) the rocks weren't knocked over, the site wasn't damaged," Aila said. "The rocks may have not been damaged physically by the fire, but they were damaged spiritually."

Aila also said that a mango tree, which is used as a reference point in the oral history of the valley, was damaged.

The Army has maintained that last week's fire did not damage any of the known 41 cultural or historic sites or 35 endangered plants and animals in the valley. Yesterday, the Army said it has yet to pinpoint the cause of the fire, the first major breakout in two years.

Last week, the Army said there were no training or live-fire operations in Makua and that only a small maintenance crew was at work. Army spokeswoman Capt. Juanita Chang said the Army also has ruled out arson as a possible cause.

Aila said he plans to go into the valley on Sunday to repair an altar that was knocked down near the southern end of the firebreak road, which divides the valley.

Malama Makua also disputes statements by the Army that the blaze was contained within the boundaries of the firebreak road, Aila said.

"Not all of the fire was contained to that area. It went up to the fence fronting Farrington Highway and in some portions jumped the fence," Aila said.

"There is a sense of disappointment in the Army since it states it is a good steward of the area," he said. "The general feeling of the group on Saturday was one of great sadness."

The last big blaze there occurred July 22, 2003, when winds fanned what was supposed to be a controlled burn that ended up destroying nearly 2,200 acres.

Under the 2001 agreement, the Army has been allowed to use the valley on a limited basis, training only up to 150 soldiers at a time. The soldiers are not allowed to fire rockets and other incendiary devices while the Army prepares an environmental impact statement.

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